To be clear: Facebook’s vision of free speech is flawed, extravagantly so. But putting aside the opportunism of Zuckerberg’s argument for a moment, which he made only after Facebook failed to enter the Chinese market and regulators began knocking on his door, his point about the vulnerability of the American model of free speech around the world is correct.
Post–Cold War narratives about the inevitable triumph of open societies and American mass culture have run aground. Authoritarian regimes that shutter universities and arrest journalists have prospered. China has become the world’s second-largest economy through economic liberalization without democratic reform.
Meanwhile, the chaotically open and user-hungry communications platforms we have created and exported have inherent, obvious weaknesses: They are vulnerable to meddling, conducive to demagoguery, and damaging to social trust. They mishandle Americans’ data and broadcast the US’s profound divisions throughout the world. And they now have a competitor that takes the flow of information very, very seriously.