Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday that the company has already begun to implement a system that ranks news organizations based on trustworthiness, and promotes or suppresses its content based on that metric.
Zuckerberg said the company has gathered data on how consumers perceive news brands by asking them to identify whether they have heard of various publications and if they trust them.
“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. "We feel like we have a responsibility to further [break] down polarization and find common ground.”
Zuckerberg met with a group of news media executives at the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel in Menlo Park after delivering his keynote speech at Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference Tuesday.
The meeting included representatives 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, HuffPost, Insider, the Atlantic, the New York Post, and others.
The event, called “OTR” (shorthand for "off the record"), is an annual gathering meant for new media news executives to talk shop. It is in its second year. Zuckerberg’s remarks were initially meant to be, like the name of the conference, off the record, but he agreed to answer questions on the record.
Zuckerberg said the company will invest "billions" of dollars in a combination of artificial intelligence and tens of thousands of human moderators to keep both fake news and deliberate propaganda at bay, especially in elections.
“We’re essentially going to be losing money on doing political ads," he said of the investment the company is making to avoid a repeat of the spread of Russian propaganda in the 2016 US election.
“The big miss is we didn’t expect these kind of coordinated information operations" in 2016, said Zuckerberg, and that the company was more focused on hacking in malware. He said the company is expecting that kind of information war now and has already successfully countered it in elections from France to Alabama.
"We deployed AI tools that have taken down tens of thousands of accounts," he said of those elections.
Zuckerberg also said he remains committed to encryption on WhatsApp and described it as a source of pride.
“WhatsApp wasn’t fully encrypted when we bought it,” noted Zuckerberg. “We rolled out encryption after we bought it. We run the largest fully encrypted communications network in the world."
Zuckerberg didn’t dispute that people are sharing less personal information in NewsFeed, but said that it was because they had more tools to share elsewhere, such as in Groups or Messenger, where they are better able to find the “perfect audience.”
“What’s really happening with technology is people now have different tools to share,” he said.
Zuckerberg also seemed resigned to changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech companies from being prosecuted for the content on their servers — such as pornography or libelous comments — that users might create or upload. (They do have a responsibility to take it down.) This safe harbor protection has traditionally been a third rail, or red line, for the tech giants.
“If we didn’t have that [Section 230], I wouldn’t have been able to start Facebook,” he said. But noting that due to tools like AI, and the ability hire thousands of human moderators, have changed the company and industry’s ability to control what’s on their systems. “We’re in a different place.”
Zuckerberg said the company's goals in the news business include funding more investigative journalism.
But he drew the line at encouraging his own employees to talk to those reporters via leaks.
“If I feel like I can’t communicate stuff openly," Zuckerberg said, "then that breaks down our internal trust."
Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
Contact Ben Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mat Honan is the San Francisco bureau chief for BuzzFeed News. Formerly a senior staff writer at Wired, he has been writing about the technology industry and its impact on society for nearly 20 years.
Contact Mat Honan at email@example.com.
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