Soros says Facebook conspiring to get Trump re-elected

NEW YORK • Billionaire George Soros has said that nothing is keeping Facebook from spreading disinformation and the company may be in cahoots with President Donald Trump to get him re-elected.

“I think there is a kind of informal mutual assistance operation or agreement developing between Trump and Facebook,” Mr Soros, 89, said on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“Facebook will work together to re-elect Trump, and Trump will work to protect Facebook so that this situation cannot be changed and it makes me very concerned about the outcome for 2020,” added Mr Soros, who did not offer any evidence for his claim.

In response, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said: “This is just plain wrong.”

Mr Soros has used his annual Davos speech as a platform to criticise the social media giant in the past. In 2018, he compared Facebook to a gambling company that fosters addiction among users, and last year, he reiterated the need to regulate technology firms.

Facebook has come under increased scrutiny from governments worldwide on multiple fronts, but especially related to the Russian misinformation campaign that ran undetected on the social network in the months prior to the 2016 US election.

The company has since worked to improve its technology for taking down efforts by foreign governments to manipulate public conversation.

But critics argue that Mr Trump is helped anyway by Facebook’s very nature: the social media platform rewards content with the potential to go viral, and Mr Trump has a tendency to say incendiary things.

After a public backlash, Facebook debated whether to take down political ads that contain lies. The company decided earlier this year that it would not, with chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg citing first amendment values and saying it should not be up to a corporation to determine what political messages are true or false.

Mr Soros on Thursday also pledged US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) for a new university network project to battle the erosion of civil society in a world increasingly ruled by “would-be and actual dictators” and beset by climate change.

He said humanity was at a turning point and the coming years would determine the fate of rulers like President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping as well as the world itself. “The survival of open societies is endangered and we face an even greater crisis: climate change,” he said.

He described the plan of the Open Society University Network as “the most important project of my life” and said it would be an international platform for teaching and research that universities worldwide would be able to join.

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