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Trading  | April 2, 2018

Facebook suffered what some might consider the ultimate humiliation over the weekend after the company was mercilessly trolled by Snapchat (the company that, investors fear, could be crushed by Kylie Jenner on a whim).

But luckily (or perhaps unluckily) the company was ready with the next installment in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pre-testimony media tour – an interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein.


Klein was a brilliant choice by Facebook’s media department, the former Washington Post columnist pulled punch after punch. Not only did he set up Zuckerberg to clearly articulate the latest iteration of his company’s slow-rolling reforms while responding to criticisms levied by Apple CEO Tim Cook. Klein’s venerating tone lent the impression that Zuckerberg would be the ideal “no labels” candidate, according to the rigid centrism that undergirds all of Klein’s work.

Meanwhile, the European Commission announced on Monday its latest action against the social media giant, with the Financial Times reporting that Brussels is preparing a crackdown on social media companies that have been accused of spreading fake news (ie Facebook). 

Zuckerberg’s interview varied little from his interviews with CNN and the New York Times.

When confronted with Cook’s remarks, Zuckerberg, a hint of annoyance creeping into his voice, slammed the Apple chief’s comments as “extremely glib.”

You know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib. And not at all aligned with the truth. The reality here is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay. And therefore, as with a lot of media, having an advertising-supported model is the only rational model that can support building this service to reach people.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not primarily focused on serving people. I think probably to the dissatisfaction of our sales team here, I make all of our decisions based on what’s going to matter to our community and focus much less on the advertising side of the business.

But if you want to build a service which is not just serving rich people, then you need to have something that people can afford. I thought Jeff Bezos had an excellent saying on this in one of his Kindle launches a number of years back. He said, “There are companies that work hard to charge you more, and there are companies that work hard to charge you less.” And at Facebook, we are squarely in the camp of the companies that work hard to charge you less and provide a free service that everyone can use.

I don’t think at all that that means that we don’t care about people. To the contrary, I think it’s important that we don’t all get Stockholm Syndrome and let the companies that work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you. Because that sounds ridiculous to me.

Klein, who swiftly admitted that he has “a lot of sympathy for Facebook’s advertising model”, sat idly by as Zuckerberg professed his newfound commitment to prioritize user privacy and well-being above all else – even if it results in lower engagement numbers.

Without inciting a peep from Klein, Zuckerberg humbly declared that he’s committed to building a “Stronger community a stronger business, regardless of what Wall Street thinks about it in the near term.

So this is another shift we’ve made in News Feed and our systems this year. We’re prioritizing showing more content from your friends and family first, so that way you’ll be more likely to have interactions that are meaningful to you and that more of the time that you’re spending is building those relationships. That change actually took time-spent down a little bit. That was part of what I was talking about on that earnings call. But over the long term, even if time-spent goes down, if people are spending more time on Facebook actually building relationships with people who they care about, then that’s going to build a stronger community and build a stronger business, regardless of what Wall Street thinks about it in the near term.

In one of his more trenchant questions, Klein asked Zuckerberg what he’s doing to stop Facebook from being used as a tool of spreading hatred. In Myanmar, Facebook has come under fire as its messenger app has been used to transmit orders in the widespread repression of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

The Myanmar issues have, I think, gotten a lot of focus inside the company. I remember, one Saturday morning, I got a phone call and we detected that people were trying to spread sensational messages through — it was Facebook Messenger in this case — to each side of the conflict, basically telling the Muslims, “Hey, there’s about to be an uprising of the Buddhists, so make sure that you are armed and go to this place.” And then the same thing on the other side.

Zuckerberg also explained to his listeners what Facebook is doing to stop malicious actors using its platform to “sow discord” – as Congress would describe it. According to Zuck, there are three categories of malicious actors. Spammers, state actors, and self-styled “media outlets” that are reporting falsehoods and biases as facts.

There are three big categories of fake news. There’s a group of people who are like spammers. These are the people who, in pre-social media days, would’ve been sending you Viagra emails. The basic playbook that you want to run on that is just make it non-economical. So the first step, once we realized that this was an issue, was a number of them ran Facebook ads on their webpages. We immediately said, “Okay. Anyone who’s even remotely sketchy, no way are you going to be able to use our tools to monetize.” So the amount of money that they made went down.

Then, they’re trying to pump this content into Facebook with the hopes that people will click on it and see ads and make money. As our systems get better at detecting this, we show the content less, which drives the economic value for them down. Eventually, they just get to a point where they go and do something else.

The second category are state actors. That’s basically the Russian interference effort. And that is a security problem. You never fully solve it, but you strengthen your defenses. You get rid of the fake accounts and the tools that they have. We can’t do this all by ourselves so we try to work with local governments everywhere who have more tools to punish them and have more insight into what is going on across their country, so that they can tell us what to focus on. And that one I feel like we’re making good progress on, too.

Then there’s the third category, which is the most nuanced, which are basically real media outlets who are saying what they think is true, but have varying levels of accuracy or trustworthiness. And that is actually the most challenging portion of the issue to deal with. Because there, I think, there are quite large free speech issues. Folks are saying stuff that may be wrong, but they mean it, they think that they’re speaking their truth, and do you really wanna shut them down for doing that?

Meanwhile, the company rolled out a new feature on Sunday to make it easier for users to navigate the site’s privacy settings. The announcement is the latest change to how the company handles user data since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.

Facebook shares moved higher during the first trading session of the month as the broader indexes moved slightly lower.


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