Zuckerberg has been on a bit of a publicity tour following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and a generally tough year for the social media behemoth.
This morning, an interview with Zuck was published on Vox. In it, the Facebook CEO waded through some of the company’s most pressing issues, including how to deal with fake news and help support good journalism and how to deal with governing a community of 2 billion people. Zuck also clapped back at Tim Cook who has criticized Facebook’s model of generating revenue through advertising.
On the problem of Fake News and transparency in the past:
It’s tough to be transparent when we don’t first have a full understanding of where the state of some of the systems are. In 2016, we were behind having an understanding and operational excellence on preventing things like misinformation, Russian interference. And you can bet that that’s a huge focus for us going forward.
On how Facebook is trying to serve up content, including news content, that is meaningful to users:
The way that this works today, broadly, is we have panels of hundreds or thousands of people who come in and we show them all the content that their friends and pages who they follow have shared. And we ask them to rank it, and basically say, “What were the most meaningful things that you wish were at the top of feed?” And then we try to design algorithms that just map to what people are actually telling us is meaningful to them. Not what they click on, not what is going to make us the most revenue, but what people actually find meaningful and valuable. So when we’re making shifts — like the broadly trusted shift — the reason why we’re doing that is because it actually maps to what people are telling us they want at a deep level.
Zuck was also asked about supporting news organizations, as some slice of Facebook’s revenue comes from users consuming news on the platform:
For the larger institutions, and maybe even some of the smaller ones as well, subscriptions are really a key point on this. I think a lot of these business models are moving towards a higher percentage of subscriptions, where the people who are getting the most value from you are contributing a disproportionate amount to the revenue. And there are certainly a lot of things that we can do on Facebook to help people, to help these news organizations, drive subscriptions. And that’s certainly been a lot of the work that we’ve done and we’ll continue doing.
He also addressed that subscriptions might not work for local news, which the CEO believes are equally important:
In local news, I think some of the solutions might be a little bit different. But I think it’s easy to lose track of how important this is. There’s been a lot of conversation about civic engagement changing, and I think people can lose sight of how closely tied that can be to local news. In a town with a strong local newspaper, people are much more informed, they’re much more likely to be civically active. On Facebook we’ve taken steps to show more local news to people. We’re also working with them specifically, creating funds to support them and working on both subscriptions and ads there should hopefully create a more thriving ecosystem.
In Reaction to Tim Cook
In an interview last week, the Apple CEO said that tech firms “are beyond” self-regulation. When asked what he would do if he was in Zuckerberg’s position, Cook said “I wouldn’t be in this situation.” The CEO has long held that an advertising model, in which companies use data around users to sell to brands, is not what Apple wants to become.
“They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it,” he said of Facebook and Google in 2015. “We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”
Zuck was asked about Cook’s statements in the interview:
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.
Zuck even took the opportunity to clap back at Cook a bit, saying we shouldn’t believe that companies trying to charge us more actually care about us.
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.
The Government of Facebook
Vox’s founder and Editor-at-Large Ezra Klein brought up something Zuck said in an earlier interview, that Facebook was more like a government than a traditional company. Zuck explained that disputes over what content is admissible on Facebook has grown to a scale that requires a certain level of governance.
But I think it’s actually one of the most interesting philosophical questions that we face. With a community of more than 2 billion people, all around the world, in every different country, where there are wildly different social and cultural norms, it’s just not clear to me that us sitting in an office here in California are best placed to always determine what the policies should be for people all around the world. And I’ve been working on and thinking through, how can you set up a more democratic or community-oriented process that reflects the values of people around the world?
That’s one of the things that I really think we need to get right. Because I’m just not sure that the current state is a great one.
On how Facebook could prepare for its own overwhelming scale:
One is transparency. Right now, I don’t think we are transparent enough around the prevalence of different issues on the platform. We haven’t done a good job of publishing and being transparent about the prevalence of those kind of issues, and the work that we’re doing and the trends of how we’re driving those things down over time.
And on long-term goals for governance:
But over the long-term, what I’d really like to get to is an independent appeal. So maybe folks at Facebook make the first decision based on the community standards that are outlined, and then people can get a second opinion. You can imagine some sort of structure, almost like a Supreme Court, that is made up of independent folks who don’t work for Facebook, who ultimately make the final judgment call on what should be acceptable speech in a community that reflects the social norms and values of people all around the world.
You can read the full interview at Vox.com.