Apple's Tim Cook Rails Against Social Media's Ties To Political Violence

The CEO implied that platforms like Facebook and Twitter had prioritized conspiracy theories due to their "high rates of engagement."

Apple CEO Tim Cook weighed in this week on social media’s role in inflaming political violence, arguing that businesses “built on misleading users” should be discredited.

Cook, who was appearing virtually on Thursday at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels, criticized social media platforms for prioritizing “conspiracy theories and violent incitement simply because of their high rates of engagement.” He did not specify which platforms he was referring to.

“At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement — the longer the better — and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible,” he said.

“It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn’t come with a cost — of polarization, of lost trust and, yes, of violence,” Cook added, in what many interpreted as a reference to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. “A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe.”

Cook’s remarks come as Facebook and Twitter are facing scrutiny over their perceived failure to curtail the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories around the 2020 presidential election.

Earlier this month, former President Donald Trump was banned from those platforms ― as well as from Instagram and Snapchat ― for his role in inciting violence to halt the peaceful transition of power to his successor, Joe Biden. Twitter said its suspension of Trump’s account was permanent.

Tensions between Apple and Facebook, meanwhile, are escalating amid the planned rollout of an iPhone feature called App Tracking Transparency. It will force developers to seek users’ permission to track the users’ data across websites and is due to be unveiled this spring.

The feature has already drawn the ire of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who argued on Wednesday that Apple was simply using privacy as a guise by which to disadvantage its competitors.

“Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own,” Zuckerberg said during a Facebook earnings call, according to a company transcript. “Apple may say that they’re doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track their competitive interests.”

Watch Tim Cook’s appearance at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference below.

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