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Illustration: Axios on HBO

If he were starting Facebook all over again, Mark Zuckerberg says he would spend more time telling the world "what our principles are."

What he's saying: "I really used to believe that the product by itself was everything, right?" Zuckerberg told Axios' Mike Allen in a wide-ranging new interview for "Axios on HBO." "And that if we if we built a good product, it didn't matter how we communicated about what we did and how we explained the principles behind the service — people would love and would use the product...."

The big picture: They have. Facebook has nearly two billion users worldwide today and is by far the world's largest internet service, with China as one giant holdout.

Zuckerberg says he regrets not explaining Facebook's free-speech ideals from the start.

  • "I just wish that I'd spent more time earlier on communicating about what our principles are and what we stand for — you know, things like free expression and voice and that we're going to defend those."
  • "Now a lot of people look at us and they see this as a successful company. With a lot of money. And it's a little hard now, I think, for us to go back and talk about our principles and have people see the principles for anything but, you know, some talking points."

Yes, but: Today Facebook finds itself at the center of enormous controversy as politicians, critics and the social network's own users hold it to account for spreading misinformation, abusing personal information and failing to limit hate speech.

  • The company has been accused of giving free rein to oppressive regimes, as for instance in Myanmar; providing a channel for foreign interference in U.S. elections; and, just in recent weeks, allowing right wing militia groups to organize a rally that led to a shooting.
  • Critics argue that Facebook's algorithms appear to favor extreme speech and are prone to manipulation — all at such a colossal scale that, when problems are spotted, it's often too late to undo the damage.

Our thought bubble: Facebook's problems look deeper than a simple failure to communicate about its core beliefs. As multiple insider accounts have described, for too long it was a company ready to bend or ditch its principles in exchange for growth.

More highlights from Zuckerberg's "Axios on HBO" interview:

No conservative bent: It's "just wrong" to consider Facebook a right-wing echo chamber, Zuckerberg said, even though conservative voices top the platform's most-engaged-with content.

  • "It's true that partisan content often has kind of a higher percent of people ... engaging with it, commenting on it, liking it," Zuckerberg told Axios. "But I think it's important to differentiate that from, broadly, what people are seeing and reading and learning about on our service."

Won't take down anti-vaxxer posts: Zuckerberg said he's not ready to move against anti-vaxxers the way he did against COVID misinformation: "If someone is pointing out a case where a vaccine caused harm or that they're worried about it — you know, that's a difficult thing to say from my perspective that you shouldn't be allowed to express at all."

Calls for investigation of Apple's App Store: "I do think that there are questions that people should be looking into about that control of the App Store and whether that is enabling as robust of a competitive dynamic."

Taking down threats against election officials: One red line Zuckerberg is willing to draw, he said, is to "very aggressively take down any threats against those people who are going to be involved in doing the counting and making sure that the election goes the way it's supposed to."

Go deeper

Dec 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Facebook lifts political ad ban for Georgia runoffs

Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Facebook said Tuesday it will begin letting advertisers run ads targeting Georgia voters about the state's Jan. 5 runoff elections, starting Dec. 16 at 9am Pacific Time, even as its broader temporary political ad ban remains in place.

Why it matters: The move comes days after Google lifted its full post-election political ad ban that went into effect after polls closed on Nov. 3. The updates from the two tech giants mean more digital ads will likely start being used to target voters in Georgia.

Democrats to take up immigration reform next week

Biden in the Oval Office in January. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House will vote on two immigration bills next week, including one to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday on a call with the Democratic caucus.

Why it matters: This is likely the only realistic shot the Biden administration has at this point to pass immigration reform.

Scoop: Biden briefing calls for 20,000 child migrant beds

President Biden, during a virtual meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

A briefing scheduled for President Biden this afternoon outlines the need for 20,000 beds to shelter an expected crush of child migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The rapid influx of unaccompanied children is building into the administration's first new crisis. A presentation created by the Domestic Policy Council spells out the dimensions with nearly 40 slides full of charts and details.