Twitter Investor Ballmer Says Social Media Companies Can't Police Fake News

Ballmer says readers need other sources of trusted information
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Steve Ballmer on Tax Reform, Social Media and Microsoft

With big technology companies facing criticism over potential manipulation by Russians trying to influence the U.S. presidential election, Twitter Inc. shareholder and former Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer said the companies can’t do more at present to police the spread of fake news. 

Ballmer, in an interview Monday with Bloomberg Television, said he would like to see social networks, such as Facebook Inc. adopt some sort of system in the future for noting trusted sources, similar to Twitter’s blue-checkmark “verified” badge, but they shouldn’t be measured the same way as news organizations. Ballmer, who in April released a government data website called USAFacts, said voters need places to find objective facts rather than information that validates their views or makes them feel good.

“The goal has to be to say ‘this is how it looks, you can see it any way you want to, but someplace you have to be able to come and be able take a look at stuff objectively’,” he said. “I’m not sure you can say that is Facebook’s job, they’re not in the news business, they pass along other people’s news. Same thing with Google. That’s part of the issue here is things can look authentic.”

Steve Ballmer
Photographer: Mike Kane/Bloomberg

USAFacts ran a survey that found respondents said they discovered news most often on social media but trust that information the least. Executives from Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook and Twitter are scheduled to testify before Congress on Nov. 1 about Russian use of their sites to influence the 2016 election.

Ballmer also said President Donald Trump has a right to speak on Twitter, just like anyone else.

“When the president speaks he’s speaking authentically for himself, and in a sense that is a set of facts,” Ballmer said. “When a major policy leader speaks, you can say it’s true, it’s not true, you like what he says, you don’t like what he says, but it’s what he’s thinking and every voter probably benefits from the ability to hear it directly.”

Other topics Ballmer addressed:

  • On pro athletes protesting during the U.S. national anthem:

“I certainly support our players exercising their free speech in the ways that seem authentic to them,” said Ballmer, an owner of the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association. “To the degree our players have ways they want to express themselves, they can use any of the tools at their disposal. Some of those tools might be in violation of NBA rules. Some of those tools are not in violation of NBA rules. It’s up to the players and they know where things stand.

More important than the question of standing or kneeling during the anthem, he said, is discussing the reasons behind the protests, from race to policing, as well as concerns about respect for police and the military.

“Whether you agree or disagree is not the point, there are issues on their minds that they want to push to the fore,” he said. “Now I hope the dialogue gets at the issues and that we move to that phase.”

  • On Microsoft’s fortunes:

CEO Satya Nadella should be credited with making the changes needed at Microsoft, Ballmer said. The company “reflected my personality and Bill (Gates)’s personality. But kind of like children, things need to keep growing and we revel when our children are grown up and making their own way and I revel that Satya is taking Microsoft to its next level.”

He praised Microsoft for doing a “pretty phenomenal job” in the cloud but still wants the company to do “more, better, faster,” especially given the lead of rival Amazon Web Services. Now that Ballmer isn’t running Microsoft anymore, he said he “marvels” at what Amazon.com Inc. has done and has “admiration” for the company.

  • On Twitter:

Ballmer also wants to see Twitter do “more, better, faster” and he still wants CEO Jack Dorsey to pick one company to run, rather than juggling the social media site and electronic payments processor Square Inc. Ballmer hopes he picks Twitter.

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