Speaking at Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference on Tuesday – a flashy two-day affair of keynote speeches and after-parties for the Silicon Valley elite – Zuckerberg said that the company has already gathered data from users, who it asked to identify various news brands and score them by trust.
“We put [that data] into the system, and it is acting as a boost or a suppression, and we’re going to dial up the intensity of that over time,” he said, according to Buzzfeed News. “We feel like we have a responsibility to further [break] down polarization and find common ground.”
Mark Zuckerberg stated Facebook is in an 'ongoing arms race' with Russia pic.twitter.com/Z7VJH7r1lR
— RT (@RT_com) April 12, 2018
Facebook, however, has been repeatedly accused of anti-conservative bias in its ranking algorithms. In his hearing before Congress last month, Republican representatives grilled Zuckerberg over reports that his platform routinely censors right-wing posts, like those by pro-Donald Trump vloggers Diamond and Silk. Zuckerberg denied these accusations, and called these incidents of censorship isolated and a “mistake.”
At the F8 conference, Zuckerberg met a group of media executives to discuss how Facebook will promote or censor news stories. Taking place behind closed doors, the meeting was named “OTR,” short for “Off the Record.” The composition of the group present will do little to reassure anybody concerned about bias or polarization.
Representatives came from BuzzFeed News, The Information, Quartz, the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, NBC, Recode, Univision, Barron’s, the Daily Beast, The Economist, the Huffington Post, Insider, The Atlantic, the New York Post, and others.
Of all the major news organizations present, only two are considered in any way right of centre by AllSides’ rankings. All of the media organizations with the exception of the finance-focused Wall Street Journal and the tabloid New York Post lean sharply to the political left.
Facebook announced last month that it would be stepping up its content-policing efforts, partnering with third-party “fact checkers” including AP and AFP to verify news, photos, and videos. At present, the company aims to employ over 20,000 staff dedicated to tackling fake news and hate speech by the end of 2018.
These virtual ‘thought-policemen’ will be aided by artificial-intelligence programs designed to pre-emptively weed out false information and propaganda. On Tuesday, Zuckerberg said that his company will invest “billions” of dollars into its content crackdown.
As outlined in a blog post last month, the clampdown is four-pronged. It targets actors that impersonate others; tricks used to artificially expand the audience for a particular message; the assertion of false information; and the spreading of false narratives.
The last target is the troubling one. Facebook describes “false narratives” as “intentionally divisive headlines and language that exploit disagreements and sow conflict.” Even Facebook’s own team are unsure what this means.
“This is the most difficult area for us, as different news outlets and consumers can have completely different [views] on what an appropriate narrative is, even if they agree on the facts,”Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos said.
Stamos himself is currently seeing out the last few months of his tenure as CSO. Last year, he spoke about about the dangers of filtering news in a series of tweets. Stamos warned that fake-news filtering would lead to Facebook “becoming the Ministry of Truth with machine-learning systems trained on your personal biases.”
If you call for less speech by the people you dislike but also complain when the people you like are censored, be careful. Really common.
— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) October 7, 2017
Stamos ended his tweetstorm with the ominous sounding: “A lot of people aren’t thinking hard about the world they are asking Silicon Valley to build. When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.”
A lot of people aren't thinking hard about the world they are asking SV to build. When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.
— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) October 7, 2017
On the same day as Zuckerberg’s sit-down with the mainstream media, Facebook premiered a surprise new feature. Beneath almost every public post, users could now see a notification asking “Does this post contain hate speech?” beside two buttons marked “Yes” and “No.”
Minutes later, the notification was gone. Facebook VP Guy Rosen later explained on Twitter that the feature was an internal test that had accidentally been made public.
Zuckerberg struggled to give a clear definition of hate speech when he appeared before Congress last month. “The question of what is hate speech and what is legitimate political speech is something we get criticism from both left and right,” he said. “It’s nuanced. We try to lay this out in our community standards.”
Facebook’s community standards page had been scant on details until a few weeks ago, when it was updated and expanded to include a new definition of hate speech.
According to the community standards page, hate speech is “a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disability or disease. We also provide some protections for immigration status.”
If the reporting option rolled out on Tuesday is anything to go by, Facebook may be trying to supplement this definition by crowdsourcing, just like how users’ trustworthiness ratings are being used to rank news sources.
Read the full story at RT.