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Reddit co-founder: Lawmakers should do their homework before grilling tech execs

In a somewhat rare move, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Georgetown University last week about freedom of speech. While defending the company’s decision not to ban outright false political ads, Zuckerberg described politicians’ calls to regulate tech companies as an effort that would restrict freedom of expression.

The speech immediately drew criticism from Democratic presidential candidates. Senator Elizabeth Warren targeted the CEO on Twitter saying the speech showed “how little he has learned from 2016 and how unprepared Facebook is to handle the 2020 election.” Over the past year, Warren has been leading the charge to break up big tech companies and she has brought the issue to the political stage. On Monday, Facebook announced steps it’s taking to safeguard the 2020 election.

“I think it is very clear the impact social media has on the conversation, on politics, on so many parts of life,” Alexis Ohanian, Reddit co-founder, told Yahoo Finance’s On the Move, noting that he did not watch Zuckerberg’s speech. “I get nervous at the idea of any institution — any single institution governing what the sort of rules are outside of the more obvious ones. I think it's — it's obviously important we have laws in place for a good reason. And — and those are the sort of high level rules for the road.”

Ohanian said one of the first things Reddit did in 2014, when he returned to the company, was update its content policy and enforce “tighter rules for the road. And I think these platforms now have such a reach and such a scale that you can't escape that reality. And we also need to be thinking about ways to do it not just for the issues of today, but for the ones of the future,” he said.

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

He added, “I do think that for all of its imperfections, our model of government, and the fact that it is designed to evolve and has lots of checks and balances, is a good one for thinking about how many of these platforms should think about operating themselves. But I think there's a lot to be desired based on the effort that's been put forth so far.”

Most of the Democrats running for president have called for tougher regulations on the big tech companies. Warren, specifically, laid out a proposal that would lead to the breakup of Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

But Ohanian argues that lawmakers need to do their part before going up against these companies.

“I would recommend to the folks in Washington, that when they are getting a chance to speak with the leaders of these companies that they're doing their homework,” Ohanian said. “I think one of the most frustrating things for a lot of us in tech is we're seeing sitting members of government asking really fundamental questions like, what is your business model, to someone like Mark Zuckerberg, who really should be asked different questions and not ones that, you know, an intern could have Googled.”

Lawmakers will get a chance to grill Zuckerberg once again this week. The CEO is in the hot seat on Wednesday. This time he will be defending Libra, the company’s crypotocurrency project.

Valentina Caval is a Producer with Yahoo Finance’s On the Move.

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