On Wednesday, New York Times published a report on Facebook that raised questions on the company’s way of dealing with the controversies surrounding it, disinformation, the way it treats competitors and critics. The report scathingly pointed out how Facebook denied and deflected the blame it faced, time and again- listing a series of issues faced by the company which affected its users right from 2015. In response to this report, Facebook released a statement on Thursday pointing out inaccuracies in the report by the New York Times.
Further on a press call yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg planned, to discuss how the social network manages problematic posts and its community standards. He also released a “community standards” transparency report, on the very same day, listing the actions proactively taken to take down illicit accounts and the struggles that the company still faces. However, the almost 90 minute call mainly ended up focusing on discussions around the New York Times story and what Facebook intends to do in its aftermath.
Mark Zuckerberg’s call with the reporters
“The reality of running a company of more than 10,000 people is that you’re not going to know everything that’s going on”
-Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive and chairman
On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg held a conference call with reporters of top media firms like USA today, Bloomberg, ABC news, Wired and many others to discuss Facebook’s latest transparency report, which lists how the company caters to its community standards that govern content on its platform.
While addressing questions on how he and Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, dealt with the issues listed in the New York Times report, Mr. Zuckerberg defended the social network, Ms. Sandberg and his own record.
In response to the Russian interference, he acknowledged that the company was slow to act, but did not hinder investigation at any point. He stated: “I’ve said many times we were too slow to spot Russian interference, to suggest we weren’t interested in knowing the truth or wanted to hide what we knew or wanted to prevent investigations is simply untrue.”
This was aligned to Facebook’s board statement on Thursday where the board acknowledged that the two executives responded slowly to Russian interference on Facebook and that directors had pushed them to act faster, but “to suggest they knew about Russian interference and either tried to ignore it or prevent investigations into what had happened was grossly unfair.”
As for hiring a PR firm- Definers- who reportedly diverted attention from Facebook’s problems to its rival companies issues, Zuckerberg repeatedly said that he had only learned of Facebook’s work with Definers from the NYT report and Sandberg was also previously unaware of the relationship. When asked who was aware, Zuckerberg simply said “someone on our comms team must have hired them.” “As soon as I read it, I looked into whether this is the type of firm we want to be working with, and we stopped working with them,” he added. “We certainly never asked them to spread anything that wasn’t true.”
However, as COO, Facebook’s corporate communications team is under the purview of Sandberg. In a statement on Facebook late Thursday, Ms. Sandberg wrote: “I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have.”
During the call, Zuckerberg mentioned that Facebook will soon create an independent oversight body to adjudicate appeals on content moderation issues. This analogous to a Supreme court, will be created sometime next year and attempt to bring a balance between the right to free speech while keeping people safe around the world.
A Blueprint for Content Governance and Enforcement
On Thursday, Facebook released its second transparency report listing its advances in proactively identifying hate speech, and the first numbers for bullying, harassment, and child sexual exploitation takedowns .The report emphasizes the company’s efforts to remove bad content before users ever see it, while fielding an ever-growing number of requests from governments.
In line to establishing an independent body to govern content moderation issues, he wrote “I believe independence is important for a few reasons. First, it will prevent the concentration of too much decision-making within our teams. Second, it will create accountability and oversight. Third, it will provide assurance that these decisions are made in the best interests of our community and not for commercial reasons.”
Some interesting statistics to note from this report are:
- From July to September of 2018, Facebook took down far more pieces of unacceptable content. It removed 2.1 million and 8.7 million pieces of content from the category of bullying and harassment and child sexual exploitation and nudity, respectively.
- It removed 1.23 billion pieces of spam and closed 754 million fake accounts in the past quarter. Facebook says these are mostly spam, although it’s periodically removed accounts linked to political propaganda campaigns.
- Facebook removed 15.4 million pieces of violent content between June and September of 2018. Facebook has also become better at removing this content before users report it, claiming to proactively find more than 96 percent of the material, compared to around 71 percent last year.
- Facebook is still fielding government requests for user data, which has increased around 26 percent between the last half of 2017 and the first half of 2018.
- Facebook has made progress at deploying thousands of newly hired reviewers and artificial-intelligence tools, to enforce its community standards more aggressively. They have managed to catch 95 percent of nudity, fake accounts and graphic violence before users report it to Facebook.
The New York Times reported that, in Washington, Republicans and Democrats threatened to restrain Facebook through competition laws. They also plan to open investigations into possible campaign finance violations. Shareholders ramped up calls to oust Mr. Zuckerberg as Facebook’s chairman while activists filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission about the social network’s privacy policies and condemned Ms. Sandberg, the chief operating officer, for overseeing a campaign to secretly attack opponents.
Mr. Zuckerberg said on the conference call that he was not willing to step down as chairman.
Jessica Guynn, a reporter for USA Today, started an interesting thread on twitter where she stresses on the point that Mark Zuckerberg is denying allegations in the Times story and instead is stressing on solutions to divert people’s attention from the problems.
Mark Zuckerberg is vaguely denying allegations in the story and moves quickly to stressing solutions so people will stop talking about the problems. This is the Facebook playbook. Is the company misreading the room this time?
— Jessica Guynn (@jguynn) November 15, 2018
Jessica also proded Mark on the topic of being the right person to lead Facebook. To which he replied “ We are doing the right things to fix the issues. I am fully committed to getting this right.”
You can head over to the New York Times for a complete coverage of this news.