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Tech billionaire: Facebook is what’s wrong with America

<i>Kristoffer Tripplaar/Alamy Stock Photo</i><br/>
Alamy Stock Photo
Kristoffer Tripplaar/Alamy Stock Photo

By Matt Egan, CNN Business

From the climate crisis to Covid, Marc Benioff sees a common thread for what ails America today: deception that is allowed to spread like wildfire on Facebook.

“This digital revolution really kind of has the world in its grip. And in that grip, you can see the amount of mistrust and misinformation that is happening,” Benioff told CNN.

The Salesforce CEO and owner of Time Magazine warned these lies tricking social media users are making it harder to solve the biggest problems gripping society.

“Look at how it is affecting the world. You can talk about the political process. You can talk about climate. You can talk about the pandemic,” Benioff said. “In each and every major topic, it gets connected back to the mistrust that is happening and especially the amount of it being seeded by the social networks. It must stop now.”

Benioff is an outspoken critic of Facebook who has previously called for breaking up Mark Zuckerberg’s empire, which is now worth nearly $1 trillion.

‘Level of deceit’

The Salesforce CEO is ramping up his criticism of Facebook following an investigation from The Wall Street Journal that used internal documents to show the company is not only well aware of its platforms’ negative effects on users — but how it has repeatedly failed to address them.

Over the summer, the White House pressed tech companies, including Facebook, to get a handle on vaccine misinformation. Facebook took action against the so-called “disinformation dozen” a month later.

“Some of these social media companies, especially Facebook, you can see that they don’t really care that their platform is filled with all of this disinformation,” Benioff said.

The tech billionaire called for Congress to crack down on Facebook’s disinformation problem.

“I own Time and I am held accountable for what is produced on my platform,” Benioff said, adding that CNN and other media outlets are also held accountable. “In regards to Facebook, they are not held accountable. So they do not have an incentive from the government. That has to change.”

Benioff urged Congress to review existing laws to try to stop the “level of deceit” happening on social networks.

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment on Benioff’s criticism.

However, the company published a seven-paragraph blog post last weekend defending itself and pushing back on the Journal investigation.

“At the heart of this series is an allegation that is just plain false: that Facebook conducts research and then systematically and willfully ignores it if the findings are inconvenient for the company,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, wrote in the post. “This impugns the motives and hard work of thousands of researchers, policy experts and engineers at Facebook who strive to improve the quality of our products, and to understand their wider (positive and negative) impact.”

After Texas abortion law, Benioff offers to move unhappy workers

Beyond social media, Benioff has been outspoken on social issues — including the Texas abortion law.

After that law took effect earlier this month, Salesforce announced that it would relocate Texas employees — and their immediate families — if they are concerned about access to reproductive care.

“We have this happening on a regular basis,” Benioff said. “We have a governor or president or some ministry of some country that makes some kind of discriminatory statement that upsets our employees and our message to our employees is very simple: If you don’t like it, you can move. And we’ll move you.”

Asked if the Texas abortion law gives him pause about doing business or expanding in the state, Benioff suggested Salesforce isn’t taking a stand on the law itself and added that employees will have different views on these issues.

“That isn’t what this is about. What this is about is telling our employees that we have their back, that if they want to move and they’re unhappy that we’ll move them,” Benioff said, adding that if they want to stay “that’s also great.” He said, “Our job is to make sure that they have the freedom, and also the liberty, to do what they want to do.”

Salesforce is based in San Francisco, but the company also has an office in Austin.

“I’m a fourth generation San Franciscan. We are the home of gay rights and freedom…Of course we’re going to act like this,” Benioff said. “If you don’t like it, we’re going to be there for you.”

‘We’re in a climate emergency’

Salesforce recently became one of the only major corporations to publicly support the climate investments in President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan.

“We’re in a climate emergency,” Benioff said when asked about his company’s support.

Salesforce also announced this week it is a net zero company across its value chain and now relies on renewable energy for 100% of its operations.

Although Salesforce supports the climate investments in the Build Back Better plan, the Business Roundtable has opposed the legislation. The influential group, which Benioff is a member of, has warned that tax hikes to pay for the new spending would put millions of jobs at risk, stunt wage growth and suppress business investment.

Asked if he would quit the Business Roundtable, Benioff said the debate isn’t about the Business Roundtable and stressed the importance of cutting carbon emissions.

“All of us need to become net zero. And that needs to happen right now,” he said.

The tax hike debate

During a speech last week, Biden sought to draw attention to unfairness in the US economy by calling out the fact that 55 large corporations paid zero in federal income taxes last year despite making billions in profits.

Salesforce is one of those companies.

“We, of course, just pay the tax bill that we’re given,” Benioff said in response to Biden’s remarks. “And in many cases, we fought for higher taxes.”

The Salesforce CEO pointed to his support for a San Francisco ballot measure that would fund homeless services by taxing large corporations.

Asked if he supports efforts by Democrats to raise the corporate tax rate to 26.5%, Benioff said stressed that tax reform must not put US companies at a disadvantage on the global stage.

“If they’re going to raise the corporate tax rate, then just make sure you keep American companies competitive,” Benioff said. “That’s the single most important thing today.”

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