Facebook defends response to Russian meddling

Mr Mark Zuckerberg says he has acted swiftly to combat the Russian challenge, and that he supports regulation that would encourage companies to reduce the prevalence of "harmful content".
Mr Mark Zuckerberg says he has acted swiftly to combat the Russian challenge, and that he supports regulation that would encourage companies to reduce the prevalence of "harmful content".PHOTO: REUTERS

CEO also reveals plan aimed at stifling misbehaviour on platform

SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook chairman and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has defended his response to Russian election meddling on the world's largest social media network and issued a new plan aimed at stifling misbehaviour while maintaining a vibrant hub for online speech.

Mr Zuckerberg's comments in a conference call with journalists on Thursday and in a Facebook post followed a New York Times report a day earlier that contended that he and other executives tried to deflect criticism internally and in Congress about Russian propaganda spreading through Facebook during the last three years.

Many US lawmakers said after the report that the government must regulate or investigate Facebook, which has become a daily source of information for more than 2 billion people globally.

Mr Zuckerberg on Thursday said he has acted swiftly to combat the Russian challenge, and supports regulation that would encourage companies to reduce the prevalence of "harmful content".

He announced several self-regulatory measures, including rough plans to create an independent body by the end of next year to review appeals from users who contend their content was wrongly banned. Users also would get a new choice on whether they want to view "borderline content" in their news feeds, he said.

"I've increasingly come to believe that Facebook should not make so many important decisions about free expression and safety on our own," Mr Zuckerberg wrote.

Facebook shares fell 0.3 per cent on Thursday, plus an additional 0.3 per cent after hours.

 
 
 

Increased regulation is among the biggest threats to Facebook, along with increasing user unease about the service being a safe and secure place to converse, according to financial analysts.

Profit margins have narrowed in recent quarters as the company executes Mr Zuckerberg's initial plan to combat misbehaviour: spending aggressively on people and technology to bolster monitoring.

Details of the appeals body are evolving, but the goal is to increase accountability of removal decisions and ensure they are not being driven by commercial reasons, Mr Zuckerberg said.

Facebook's appeals process would expand to enable people who complain about content to seek second opinions if it is not removed initially. In addition, Facebook would become transparent about their rationale as well as policy changes, he said.

His announcement came as part of an update on Facebook's Transparency Report, which discloses how the company deals with inappropriate content and requests for user data by governments.

For the first time, Facebook on Thursday revealed data on bullying and harassment content, saying it had identified about 2.1 million such posts on its service between April and September, with about 15 per cent found proactively before user complaints.

Other notable updates included revelations of sharp rises during the first half of this year in censorship demands from the Russian and Pakistan authorities as well as in user data requests from the Indian authorities, according to Facebook's statistics.

Facebook has been under fire for the last two years for its self-admitted sluggishness in developing tools to combat extremist content and propaganda operations.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Mr Donald Trump by undermining his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied any meddling in the election.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2018, with the headline 'Facebook defends response to Russian meddling'. Print Edition | Subscribe