In the aftermath of the U.S. Presidential election, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took the stage at Techonomy16 to address concerns that the company didn’t do enough to stop the proliferation of fake news on News Feed.
Zuckerberg insisted that more can always be done to improve the quality of the News Feed experience, but that Facebook could not have influenced the outcome of the election.
“Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” Zuckerberg said.
He continued by saying people are looking for a narrative to explain the election. However, he believes that a narrative that implicitly assumes Trump supporters are dumb enough to be manipulated by Facebook is insulting to those voters. In his view, It was just as likely for News Feed to highlight fake news about Clinton — but the media remains steadfast in ignoring that Trump supporters ultimately believed their candidate can bring them a better life.
“People are smart and they understand what’s important to them,” noted Zuckerberg.
Rather than placing blame on the accessibility of facts, he pointed to content engagement as the problem. Zuckerberg noted that Trump’s posts got more engagement than Clinton’s on Facebook.
Facebook research shows that nearly everyone on the platform is connected with at-least someone that has opposing ideological beliefs. The real question for Zuckerberg is how to influence the way people react when they see a post they disagree. The key is to stop them from brushing it under the rug.
To get there, Facebook is making efforts to involve humans more deeply in the creation of the ranking algorithms the company uses for content. News Feed now has a human quality panel that is used to hone in rankings. Humans are given stories and asked to rank them to get a better idea of what makes a particular story fulfilling for the user.
Zuckerberg had previously only addressed the election in a Facebook post featuring a photograph of his daughter Max. He noted at that time that, “We are all blessed to have the ability to make the world better, and we have the responsibility to do it,” but didn’t elaborate on what that meant specifically for him and his company.
Adam Mosseri, VP of Product Management for NewsFeed, echoed much of what Zuckerberg said earlier today in a statement to TechCrunch, though his brief comments were notably less skeptical of the importance of removing propaganda.
“We understand there’s so much more we need to do, and that is why it’s important that we keep improving our ability to detect misinformation,” Mosseri noted.
Despite all of the global concern about Trump’s win, Zuckerberg did take a moment to make it clear that he doesn’t believe any single person can fundamentally alter the arc of technological innovation.
The following transcription has been edited slightly for readability. It contains the largest chunk of Zuckerberg’s commentary about the role of News Feed in the election. If you want to see the entire talk, you can watch it in its entirety here.