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Facebook plans to reduce the presence of politics on people’s feeds, Nick Clegg says

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Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister who is now vice president for global affairs and communications at Facebook, also defended the social media giant’s decision to remove some security measures after the 2020 US election.

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.”

Nick Clegg
Image:Nick Clegg and (below) Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019

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.”

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.

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Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg says claims against company are attempt to ‘paint a false picture’

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His comments follow evidence from whistleblower Frances Haugen who told MPs that algorithms can be used that “take people who have mainstream interests and push them to extreme interests”.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said recent claims against the social media giant are an attempt to “paint a false picture of our company”.

Whistleblower Frances Haugen has told MPs that groups on the social media site can be “dangerous” because they use algorithms that “take people who have mainstream interests and push them to extreme interests”.

She said groups can become “echo chambers” that reinforce people’s opinions and gave the example that users with left-wing opinions can be pushed to the radical left, while those looking for healthy recipes can be pushed towards anorexia content.

Mr Zuckerberg’s comments came after reports on the Facebook Papers, a vast cache of internal documents, and Ms Haugen’s testimony to MPs and followed a 17% increase in the company’s net income in the July-September period to $9.19bn, buoyed by strong advertising revenue.

In a post on his Facebook page, Mr Zuckerberg said: “I believe large organizations should be scrutinized and I’d much rather live in a society where they are than one where they can’t be. Good faith criticism helps us get better.Advertisement

“But my view is that what we’re seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.”

He added: “It makes a good soundbite to say that we don’t solve these impossible tradeoffs because we’re just focused on making money, but the reality is these questions are not primarily about our business, but about balancing difficult social values.”

His comments were mostly a repeat of what he said after Ms Haugen appeared before a US Senate subcommittee on 5 October.

Ms Haugen, a former product manager in the company’s civic integrity unit, told MPs on Monday: “One of the things that happens with groups and networks of groups is people see echo chambers that create social norms…” and that people with opposing views are “torn apart”.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaves parliament in London
Image:Facebook whistleblower Ms Haugen says Facebook groups can become ‘echo chambers’ reinforcing and radicalising people’s opinions

“When that context is around hate you see a normalisation of hate, a normalisation of dehumanising others, and that’s what leads to violent incidents,” she added.

She also told the committee that Facebook “unquestionably” makes online hate worse, sees safety as a “cost centre”, and that “critical teams” are understaffed.

“If you make noise saying we need more help… you will not get rallied around for help because everyone is under water,” she said.

Frances Haugen, Facebook whistleblower, gives evidence to MPs
Image:Ms Haugen gives evidence to MPs

She said “engagement-based metrics” – which focus on how many people like, share or comment on a post – were a major problem on all social media sites.

She said they favoured polarised content and were “biased towards bad actors”.

“The events we’re seeing around the world, things like Myanmar and Ethiopia, those are the opening chapters because engagement-based ranking does two things: one, it prioritises and amplifies divisive and polarising extreme content and two it concentrates it,” said Ms Haugen.

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Tesla worth $1trn as investors cheer deal with Hertz which has ordered 100,000 electric vehicles

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Following the announcement of the deal, Tesla’s shares jumped by over 9.5% to top $995.75, making the company worth $1trn, according to Reuters.

Tesla’s market capitalisation passed $1trn on Monday after its shares surged following a deal with car rental company Hertz which has ordered 100,000 new electric vehicles from the manufacturer.

It is the largest-ever order for the firm founded by Elon Musk.

Following the announcement of the deal, Tesla’s shares jumped by over 9.5% to top $995.75, making the company worth $1trn (around £726bn), according to Reuters.

The agreement will see Hertz complete its purchases of the Tesla Model 3 cars by the end of 2022, while customers will be able to start renting Tesla’s electric vehicles through Hertz starting from next month.

The deal is likely to be worth around $4bn (£2.9bn) because each Model 3 has a base price of about $40,000 (£29,000).Advertisement

It also ranks at the top of the list of electric vehicle orders by a single firm.

By becoming a $1trn company, Tesla joins an elite group of famous firms that have already passed the mark.

The only other publicly listed companies in the US that have reached a $1trn market capitalisation so far are Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

Hertz customers will be able to access Tesla’s network of superchargers across the US and Europe – and the rental company has also pledged to install 3,000 chargers of its own by the end of next year.

“We absolutely believe that this is going to be competitive advantage for us,” acting chief executive of Hertz, Mark Fields, said of the Tesla order.

Elon Musk with a Tesla Model S. Pic: AP
Image:Mr Musk’s company is currently struggling to fulfil a backlog of orders

Speaking to Reuters, Mr Fields added: “We want to be a leader in mobility…Getting customers experience with electrified vehicles is an absolute priority for us.”

Hertz currently has around 430,000 to 450,000 vehicles worldwide, and has said it will work with other companies producing electric vehicles – not just Tesla. Following the latest order, Mr Fields said that electric vehicles will make up more than 20% of its global fleet.

Mr Musk’s company is currently struggling to fulfil a backlog of orders, and is suffering from supply chain issues – but experts say that the deal cements the mainstream status of electric vehicles.

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Facebook under fresh pressure as whistleblower prepares to give evidence to MPs

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The company has been plunged into a crisis since Frances Haugen released thousands of pages of internal research documents secretly copied before leaving her job in the firm’s civic integrity unit.

A Facebook whistleblower whose claims have rocked the social media giant has launched a fresh attack on Mark Zuckerberg, accusing him of not being willing to protect public safety.

The latest broadside by former employee Frances Haugen comes as she prepares to give evidence to MPs at Westminster.

Her intervention ramps up the pressure on the embattled $1trn (£750bn) company, which has been plunged into a crisis since she released thousands of pages of internal research documents secretly copied before leaving her job in the firm’s civic integrity unit.

Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen
Image:Ms Haugen is to face questions from MPs scrutinising the draft Online Safety Bill

It comes amid newspaper reports that workers repeatedly warned Facebook was being flooded with misinformation claiming that the 2020 US presidential election result was being rigged.

Workers reportedly believed more should have been done to tackle it.Advertisement

It has fuelled renewed concerns about Facebook’s role in the 6 January Capitol riots, in which a mob seeking to overturn the election result stormed Congress.

Separate leaked documents also reveal Facebook in India wavered in curbing hate speech and anti-Muslim content on its platform and lacked enough local language moderators to stop misinformation, which at times sparked violence.

Criticising Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a interview with The Observer newspaper, Ms Haugen said: “Right now, Mark is unaccountable.

“He has all the control.

“He has no oversight, and he has not demonstrated that he is willing to govern the company at the level that is necessary for public safety.”

The outage lasted for almost six hours and affected billions of users
Image:Facebook is reportedly planning to rebrand with a name change

She said she had leaked the documents because she realised the company would not change otherwise.

Ms Haugen made her comments ahead of facing questions from a UK parliamentary committee scrutinising the draft Online Safety Bill, which aims to regulate tech firms and social media in a bid to curb cyber abuse and threats.

She has already levelled a series allegations against the social network, saying its platforms “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy”, and that it refused to act because executives put profits above safety.

Ms Haugen has also accused the tech giant of being aware of the apparent harm Instagram could have on some teenagers and their body image, and said the firm had been dishonest in its public fight against hate content and misinformation by concealing research that showed it amplified such content.

Mr Zuckerberg has rejected the claims made by Ms Haugen, saying her attacks on the company were “misrepresenting” the work it does and that it “cares deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health”.

He added: “At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritise profit over safety and well-being. That’s just not true.”

Facebook is reportedly planning to rebrand its business name in an apparent bid to distance its wider business from the string of controversies that have engulfed it in recent years.

Among its latest big ideas is the so-called metaverse, a 3D online world the firm wants to lead the way on building, in which people can meet, play and work virtually, often using virtual reality headsets.

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