As citizens, politicians and media outlets evaluate their role in last week’s presidential election, one of the most potent forces — Facebook — is being scrutinized for essentially creating an “echo chamber” among like-minded users.
But chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is a tech company, not a media company. He also said it’s up to users to decide who to follow and that it is a “crazy idea” that Facebook influenced the election in any way.
His latest comments came in a Nov. 12 Facebook post in which he said that 99 percent of the content on the social media platform — which now boasts almost 1.8 billion users — is “authentic,” and that it was “extremely unlikely” that hoaxes changed the outcome of this election.
He repeated previous comments that emphasized the platform’s role in giving people a voice. He wrote, “we gave tens of millions of people tools to share billions of posts and reactions about this election.”
In an August town hall in Rome, Zuckerberg said Facebook does not produce or edit content, and because it connects people to those around the world, it is “one of the most diverse forms of media that has ever existed.” According to the ceo, approximately 10 percent of a user’s Facebook friends represent the other side. Compared with a newspaper or TV station, he said, it offers a more diverse perspective.
It’s estimated that 44 percent of the entire U.S. population accesses news on Facebook, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation. That begs the question of Facebook’s responsibility to curate or monitor the content that is shared on the platform.
Just two days after the election, Zuckerberg said at the Techonomy conference that the Facebook News Feed is designed to show people content that Facebook’s thinks will be meaningful and interesting, and that it highlights the content of friends and family before outside entities. “News isn’t a priority for most people,” he said. “It’s connecting with friends and family.”
He blamed the lack of diversity in people’s news consumption to a “profound lack of empathy” and not fake news, saying that the information is out there but people don’t engage in higher proportions. “People don’t click; they tune it out,” he said of posts that share contrary points of view. “I don’t know what to do about that, and we should work on that.”
He acknowledged that there was room for improvement, and said that he would continue to share information as the News Feed evolves. “We hope to have more to share soon, although this work often takes longer than we’d like in order to confirm changes we make won’t introduce unintended side effects or bias into the system,” he wrote.
For now, he maintains that his “North Star” is giving people a voice in a safe community, and that most of that was not political discourse, offering on Nov. 10 that “as norms change, we will have to continue to reflect values the community holds. Making changes is a natural evolution.”