Facebook Vies with Whistleblower to Spin Latest News Cycle

Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg in a round of Sunday morning news appearances advocated his company’s position in the midst of senatorial attack, discussing new safety tools and emphasizing the company’s repeated requests for congressional guidelines. Means to deflect users from harmful content, curb political content and put programming power in the hands of parents were among the new measures by which to impede vulnerabilities. Instagram in particular will invite adult supervision over accounts belonging to minors. Clegg stressed Instagram Kids for 13-and-under as part of the solution.

“We can’t change human nature. We always see bad things online. We can do everything we can to try to reduce and mitigate them,” Clegg told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

Clegg was embroiled in a duel to win the news cycle, going lap-for-lap with whistleblower Frances Haugen who continued the messaging from her momentous October 5 appearance before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (the main point being Facebook puts profits before users’ health and safety).

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Clegg called the algorithm changes Facebook was criticized for curtailing after the 2020 election “very, very blunt tools which were basically scooping up a lot of entirely innocent, legitimate, legal, playful, enjoyable content.”

Queried on the company’s policy of labeling misinformation, Clegg forcefully responded that “of course, if someone keeps saying things which leads to real-world harm, we kick them off [Facebook],” an exclusionary tactic “we do … on a far more significant scale than any other part of the industry.”

Referencing the $13 billion Facebook has spent on “integrity work” to defang misinformation and hate speech, he contextualized “that is more than the total revenues of Twitter over the last four years.” The initiative has, he says, been successful, with “the presence of hate speech on Facebook” reduced to 0.05 percent. “That means for every 10,000 bits of content that you’ll see on Facebook, only five will be hate speech. I wish we could bring it down to zero.”

As legislators call for more transparency from the social media giant, Clegg urged Congress to get on board. “There are a whole bunch of things that only regulators and lawmakers can do,” he said on “Meet the Press.” “At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone wants a private company to adjudicate on these really difficult trade-offs between free expression on one hand and moderating or removing content on the other.”

In critiquing the appearances, CNBC called Clegg light on the specifics of the safety tools being proposed in response to the recent rebuke. Among them, a “take a break” tool if Facebook detects a teen “dwelling on content that may be correlated with something that’s not good for their well-being.” The valve would “nudge them to look at other content” or even “to really kind of urge teens to take a break from using Instagram.”

Meanwhile, back in Palo Alto, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives dialogued with employees in live internal events, emergency briefing sessions and via memos. Zuckerberg participated in a question-and-answer session that revolved largely around refuting former staffer Haugen’s allegations, according to The New York Times, which obtained a recording of the meeting.

NYT noted Facebook “acted swiftly as employees have become divided on Ms. Haugen,” with some suggesting she be served with a cease-and-desist order or sued for breaking her non-disclosure agreement. Others said Haugen was “saying things that many people here have been saying for years” and urged the company to listen to her, noted NYT.

Related:
Instagram Will Encourage Teens to ‘Take a Break’, Engadget, 10/10/21
Facebook’s Oversight Board Will Meet with the Facebook Whistleblower, TechCrunch, 10/11/21
Facebook Whistleblower to Speak Out at UK, EU Parliaments, Bloomberg, 10/11/21