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”.
Speaking to NBC News’ Meet The Press programme, Mr Clegg also defended the social media platform’s decision to remove some security measures after the 2020 US election.
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”.
Mr Clegg said it was “not true” to claim that Facebook had immediately lifted all the measures after the election, and revealed it is now “going even further” to reduce the presence of politics on people’s feeds.
“One of the things we have heard from users both from the US and around the world since the election is people want to see more friends, less politics,” he said. “So we have been testing ways in which we can reduce the presence of politics for people’s Facebook experiences.”
Mr Clegg, who led the Liberal Democrats until 2015, explained Facebook imposed a number of “exceptional” safety measures during a “stark and polarising” time of the US election and the pandemic.
“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”.
Analysis by Sally Lockwood in Washington DC
Nick Clegg offered a great deal of defence today.
He said they had a significant amount of staff looking into these safety measures, that they were going to increase transparency, and safety as well.
But he also made the point that with more than a third of the planet’s population using its service, it is very hard to police that content.
By saying that, he perhaps highlighted the very concern that so many people have: that Facebook wields immense influence, nearly three billion people use its platform, and how is that influence not only monitored, but also used.
And there’s growing calls here in Washington for regulation.
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.