Facebook faced renewed questions about its handling of noted conspiracy site InfoWars, and its decision to place Fox News alongside other news organizations at a time when the social media site has launched an initiative to combat misinformation.
The company attempted to focus its inaugural TCA presentation on its programming strategy for Facebook Watch, the video platform it launched just over a year ago. But questions took a topical, confrontational turn.
Facebook was asked again to talk about its treatment of InfoWars, which peddles in conspiracy theories including calling the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax and the 9/11 terrorist attacks an “inside job.” Host Alex Jones most recently went the attack against special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing him of being a pedophile in one recent show, claiming, “They’d let Mueller rape kids in front of people, which he did.”
Facebook Product VP Fidji Simo echoed CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s careful language about the site’s handling of InfoWars, saying the social media site attempts to find the balance between free expression and safety of its 2 billion users.
“What we’re trying to do is make it so that, if you are saying something that is untrue, you’re allowed to say it, as long as you an authentic person,” Simo said. “We try to make it so that it doesn’t get much distribution.”
Simo said that if a piece of content is flagged by fact-checkers as untrue, Facebook’s algorithms limit distribution so the misinformation doesn’t spread. Facebook also flags erroneous information as users attempt to share it with friends.
“We send a pop up, ‘Hey you’re about to share something that a lot of people think is inaccurate,’ ” Simo said. “That decreases distribution by 80%.”
Another questioner asked Facebook why it features Fox News alongside other news organizations on its Watch platform. A chorus of Hollywood critics — including Paul Feig (20th Century Fox’s Spy, The Heat), Family Guy‘s Seth MacFarlane, director Judd Apatow and Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan — recently spoke out against the cable news network’s coverage of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, specifically the separation of migrant families at the border.
The trigger was FNC host Laura Ingraham who called child detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border “summer camps.”
“I think we have limited time,” responded Ricky Van Veen, head of global creative strategies, as he attempted to deflect the question. Fidji and I are not in the news.”
Amid shouts of answer the question, Simo raised it as a question of fairness.
“We are really trying to show a range of programming that shows a range of the political spectrum,” Simo said.
And no, Simo said, there have been no celebrity defections from Facebook Watch in protest over Fox News.