Facebook plans to reduce the presence of politics on people’s feeds after it lifted “exceptional” safety measures implemented for last year’s US election, Nick Clegg has said.
The former UK deputy prime minister, now vice president for global affairs and communications at Facebook, said users had expressed a desire to see “more friends, less politics”.
It comes after former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen claimed the company “intentionally hides vital information from the public” and “buys its profits with our safety”.
“It’s simply not true to say we lifted those measures immediately – in fact, we kept the vast majority right through to the inauguration. And we kept some in place permanently – so we permanently don’t recommend civic and political groups to people,” he said.
“But it’s worth remembering what those measures are like closing all the highways in a town because a temporary one-off problem in one neighbourhood – you don’t do that on a permanent basis.”
Mr Clegg said that some of the temporary measures Facebook took, such as bearing down on the virality of videos, meant it was preventing the publication of “perfectly innocent videos”.
He said the measures were “very blunt tools which were scooping up a lot of entirely innocent, legitimate, playful, and enjoyable content – and we did that very exceptionally”.
In a separate interview on CNN’s State Of The Union show, Mr Clegg said: “We are constantly iterating in order to improve our products.
“We cannot, with a wave of the wand, make everyone’s life perfect. What we can do is improve our products, so that our products are as safe and as enjoyable to use.”
Ms Haugen – who used to work as a product manager at the tech giant – gave damning evidence to US politicians in the Senate, days after leaking internal documents to the Wall Street Journal.
“Left alone, Facebook will continue to make choices that go against the common good,” she warned.
“When we realised Big Tobacco was hiding the harms, that caused the government to take action. When we figured out cars were safer with seatbelts, the government took action. And when our government learned that opioids were taking lives, the government took action.”
Her testimony also came after Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp suffered an unprecedented outage for almost six hours on Monday – leaving its 3.5 billion users struggling to access services.
Moving forward, Mr Clegg insisted the platform was committed to clamping down on misinformation, and that anyone who continuously posts it would be removed.
“If someone keeps saying things that lead to real-world harm, we kick them off. We do that on a very significant scale than any other part of the industry. We bear down very aggressively on hate speech in recent years – we employ 40,000 people now to do this work – more than twice the number of staffers who work on Capitol Hill,” he said.
He added that hate speech now stands at 0.05% on Facebook.
“That means for every 10,000 bits of content you’ll see on Facebook, only five will be hate speech,” he said.