Facebook says no assurance social media is good for democracy

Harvard University professor Cass Sunstein said in a blog post that social media was a work in progress and that companies would need to experiment with changes to improve. (Reuters)
Updated 22 January 2018
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Facebook says no assurance social media is good for democracy

SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook warned on Monday that it could offer no assurance that social media was on balance good for democracy, but the company said it was trying what it could to stop alleged meddling in elections by Russia or anyone else.
The sharing of false or misleading headlines on social media has become a global issue, after accusations that Russia tried to influence votes in the US, Britain and France. Moscow denies the allegations.
Facebook, the largest social network with more than 2 billion users, addressed social media’s role in democracy in blog posts from a Harvard University professor, Cass Sunstein, and from an employee working on the subject.
“I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can’t,” Samidh Chakrabarti, a Facebook product manager, wrote in his post.
Facebook, he added, has a “moral duty to understand how these technologies are being used and what can be done to make communities like Facebook as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible.”
Contrite Facebook executives were already fanning out across Europe this week to address the company’s slow response to abuses on its platform, such as hate speech and foreign influence campaigns.
US lawmakers have held hearings on the role of social media in elections, and this month Facebook widened an investigation into the run-up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership.
Chakrabarti expressed Facebook’s regrets about the 2016 US elections, when according to the company Russian agents created 80,000 posts that reached around 126 million people over two years.
The company should have done better, he wrote, and he said Facebook was making up for lost time by disabling suspect accounts, making election ads visible beyond the targeted audience and requiring those running election ads to confirm their identities.
Twitter and Alphabet’s Google and YouTube have announced similar attempts at self-regulation.
Chakrabarti said Facebook had helped democracy in ways, such as getting more Americans to register to vote.
Sunstein, a law professor and Facebook consultant who also worked in the administration of former US President Barack Obama, said in a blog post that social media was a work in progress and that companies would need to experiment with changes to improve.
Another test of social media’s role in elections lies ahead in March, when Italy votes in a national election already marked by claims of fake news spreading on Facebook.


Facebook hires former UK deputy PM Nick Clegg as head of global affairs

Updated 19 October 2018
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Facebook hires former UK deputy PM Nick Clegg as head of global affairs

  • Facebook is enlisting the veteran of EU politics to help with increased regulatory scrutiny and challenges to its reputation
  • Clegg described the new job as ‘an exciting new adventure,’ after 20 years in British politics

LONDON: Facebook Inc. has hired former British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to lead its global affairs and communications team, as the social network deals with a number of scandals related to privacy, fake news and election meddling.
The appointment makes Clegg, former leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats and deputy to David Cameron in the 2010-2015 coalition government, the most senior European politician ever in a leadership role in Silicon Valley.
Facebook said Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg were closely involved in the hiring process, and started talking to Clegg over the summer.
“Our company is on a critical journey. The challenges we face are serious and clear and now more than ever we need new perspectives to help us though this time of change,” Sandberg said on a Facebook post congratulating Clegg.
Clegg, 51, succeeds Elliot Schrage and will report to Sandberg beginning on Monday. He will move to California with his family in the new year.
He was ousted as deputy prime minister after the Conservatives won a majority in 2015 in an election that saw his Liberal Democrats suffer a significant loss of support.
Clegg, whose appeal to younger voters was critically damaged when he broke a promise not to raise student tuition fees, lost his own seat in Britain’s parliament in an election last year.
He apologized in 2012 for breaking his promise on student charges, saying “I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it.”
Clegg is joining a company that has apologized for its mistakes and has promised to do better on many occasions, for example for breaching its users’ trust.
“Throughout my public life I have relished grappling with difficult and controversial issues and seeking to communicate them to others,” Clegg said in a Facebook post.
“I hope to use some of those skills in my new role“
Clegg, a strong advocate of Britain’s membership of the European Union, said it was a “wrench” to be leaving the public debate at a crucial time in Brexit, but added that key decisions would pass to parliament, of which he was no longer a member.
He will join his Liberal Democrat colleague Richard Allan at the social network.
Allan, a member of parliament between 1997 and 2005 who now sits in the upper house, is Facebook’s vice president of public policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Clegg has discussed online security and privacy, both when in office and more recently in newspaper articles.
“I’m not especially bedazzled by Facebook,” he said in an article in the London Evening Standard in 2016.
“While I have good friends who work at the company, I actually find the messianic Californian new-worldy-touchy-feely culture of Facebook a little grating.”
He also said he was not sure that companies such as Facebook really pay all the tax they could, although he added that was as much the fault of governments that still hadn’t got their tax act together.
Schrage, who led the social network’s response to its several scandals, stepped down from the role in June after a decade with the company. Schrage will stay as an adviser, Facebook said.
Facebook has faced a barrage of criticism from users and lawmakers after it said last year that Russian agents used its platform to spread disinformation before and after the 2016 US presidential election, an accusation Moscow denies.
In March, the company faced new scrutiny over how it protects personal information after acknowledging that the data of up to 87 million people ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.