WarnerMedia CEO: Facebook needs 'editorial integrity' just like media companies

Max Zahn

A top executive at AT&T (T), one of the largest companies in the U.S., says even he worries about how powerful some of the top tech companies have gotten.

In a newly released interview, AT&T President and COO John Stankey says he’s “really concerned about the concentration of economic power” in big tech companies and how they approach their “platforms’ influence on society.”

Stankey, who also serves as the CEO of WarnerMedia, urged Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg to take some responsibility for information posted on the platform, saying that the site requires “editorial integrity” whether or not Zuckerberg considers it a media company.

“If that's where people are consuming facts and information and if you're aggregating and producing that to move out, then you probably need to think about what the editorial integrity of your platform is,” he says.

Members of the House Antitrust Subcommittee opened an antitrust investigation into tech giants Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG, GOOGL), and Facebook last year. Meanwhile the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have mounted their own probes into the companies, divvying them up between the two agencies.

Earlier this month, the FTC made headlines when it announced it would examine acquisitions made by the major tech companies.

It’s “inevitable there's going to be some more regulation on some of the tech platforms based on what we're learning and what we're seeing in terms of how they're operating their businesses,” Stankey says.

Stankey made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

In addition to his role in the C-suite at AT&T, Stankey is the chief executive at WarnerMedia, which controls properties like HBO, Turner, and Warner Brothers. Among his responsibilities is the oversight of HBO Max, a new streaming service set to launch in May.

“Why did editorial integrity show up in media companies?” Stankey adds. “Editorial integrity and editors arrived because people needed to make sure that their source of information was, in fact, doing that ethical and fair reporting that we just talked about. And so I don't think you can sit here and say, well, just because I'm not a media company, I shouldn't need editors.”

In 2018, Zuckerberg told a U.S. House Committee that Facebook was a “technology company,” explaining that the “primary thing that we do is have engineers who write code and build product and services for other people.”

In that same 2018 address to members of Congress, Zuckerberg noted: “When people ask if we’re a media company what I heard is, ‘Do we have a responsibility for the content that people share on Facebook,’ and I believe the answer to that question is yes.”

But the company has declined to take a role in judging the veracity of posts on the site, opting instead to partner with fact-checking organizations that vet posts, an arrangement that began after the 2016 presidential election.

“We don't want to be in the position of determining what is true and what is false for the world,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management, told Yahoo Finance last September. “We don't think we can do it effectively.”

John Stankey, President and COO at AT&T as well as WarnerMedia CEO, appears on Influencers with Andy Serwer.

“We hear from people that they don't necessarily want a private company making that decision,” she adds.

The company has come under fire for allowing misinformation and misleading political advertisements to spread on the site. Last October, Facebook launched a news tab on its mobile site that includes partnerships with outlets like The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and BuzzFeed, which under the new initiative publish directly on Facebook.

Last month, Facebook announced it would take the unusual step of removing false posts that discussed the coronavirus.

Looking ahead, the societal effects of unvetted information on Facebook will remain a pressing question for years, Stankey said.

“We're going to be into some interesting times in the coming months and years around how that evolves,” Stankey says. “I do think it's an area that we need to have a broader social and civic discussion on around what we want as a society and what's productive for us.”

Verizon, a wireless carrier, is the parent company of Yahoo Finance.

Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.

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