During Facebook Inc.’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company will make changes to reduce the volume of political content on its platforms and news feeds, although most of the specifics remained vague.
Facebook and other social platforms are facing intensifying pressure borne of social platforms’ critical roles in enabling Trump and his followers to falsely deny the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election as president, and to organize the assault on the U.S. Capitol three weeks ago.
Zuckerberg said that one of the “top pieces of feedback” from Facebook’s community at present is that “people don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services.”
Yet, he said: “Of course we are still going to enable people to engage in political groups and discussions if they want to. These can also be important and helpful. They can be ways that people organize grassroots movements or speak out against injustice or learn from people with different perspectives.”
“There has been this frenzy across society where a lot of things have become political and politics have been creeping into everything,” he said, but Facebook users actually come “to connect with friends and family.”
“We can potentially do a better job,” Zuckerberg said, but acknowledged that the company is “still working through the best way to do this.”
He did say that the platform would make its suspension of recommending political and civic groups in the U.S — which was put in place before the election — permanent, and extend it worldwide.
“This is a continuation of work we’ve been doing for a while to turn down the temperature and discourage divisive conversations,” Zuckerberg said.
On Tuesday, Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, wrote Zuckerberg to urge that recommendations of political groups be halted for good, calling them “breeding grounds for hate, echo-chambers of misinformation, and venues for coordination of violence, including explicit planning for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol,” reported USA Today.
In a notable disconnect, he made no mention of Facebook’s indefinite suspension of former president Trump from the platform, or that the company has asked its oversight board to decide whether that should continue — even though the board was set to release its first official rulings today.
Zuckerberg reiterated his assertion that revenue generated by political advertising is only in the low single digits, and also asserted that political content represents a small portion of overall content on Facebook.
He also reiterated his support for an updating of Section 230, the regulation that protects web platforms from legal consequences from user-generated content.
Facebook Inc. reported its best quarter in two years, beating analysts’ expectations on both revenue and earnings — although Facebook’s North American user base fell by 1 million, to 195 million, in Q4, compared with Q3.
Zuckerberg again asserted that Apple — which he said Facebook views as among its biggest competitors — is implementing privacy changes in iOS 14 for competitive purposes rather than out of concern for users.
He warned that Apple’s move, by interfering with ad targeting, could begin to affect Facebook’s financials as soon as the current quarter.
Facebook also cited the antitrust suit filed against the company by the Federal Trade Commission and 48 state attorneys general, along with calls for repeals of Section 230, as continuing challenges.