Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is thinking about new ways to make political content less visible on its platform, and that the company may make changes to users’ News Feeds to make that happen.
The comments came during Facebook’s quarterly earnings call, which Zuckerberg kicked off by discussing his priorities for 2021. “People don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience,” Zuckerberg said. He also said the company would permanently halt algorithmic recommendations for groups dedicated to political and social issues. The company had paused the suggestions in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, but Zuckerberg now says it will make the change permanent across its platform, not just in the United States.
Zuckerberg didn’t specify exactly how Facebook may tweak News Feed, or detail how it would determine what it considers “political.” He was quick to point out that he was still committed to “free expression” and didn’t want to limit users’ ability to express political views, but that the company would respond to “feedback” from users indicating political content is unpopular.
Of course, fights about politics have been a mainstay of most users’ News Feeds for much of Facebook’s 15-year existence. And it’s not clear how much Facebook will be able to influence the behavior of its users — many of whom already believe the company censors viewpoints it doesn’t agree with.
But it’s yet another sign that Facebook wants to lower the temperature on its platform following the 2020 election and the subsequent violence in Washington DC. Facebook has faced criticism for the role its platform played in the riot at the US Capitol.
Here are Zuckerberg’s full comments on political groups and content in News Feed:
“As we continue to focus on this, we need to make sure the communities people connect with are healthy and positive. That's something we've been focused on for a while now. One way of course we do that is by taking down groups that break our rules against things like violence or hate speech. In September, we shared that we had removed more than 1 million groups in the last year alone. But there are also a lot of groups that we may not want to encourage people to join, even if they don't violate our policies.
For example, we stopped recommending civic and political groups in the US ahead of the elections. We’re continuing to fine tune how this works, but now we plan to keep civic and political groups out of recommendations for the long term, and expand this globally. To be clear, this is a continuation of work we’ve been doing for a while to turn down the temperature and discourage divisive conversations and communities.
Along these same lines, we're also currently considering steps we could take to reduce the amount of political content in News Feed as well. We're still working through exactly the best way to do this. And to be clear, of course we'll still enable people to engage in political groups and discussions if they want to. These can often be important and helpful. They can be ways to organize grassroots movements, speak out against injustice, or learning from people with different perspectives. So we want these discussions to keep happening. But one of the top pieces of feedback we're hearing from our community right now is that people don't want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services.”
Updated to add additional quotes from Mark Zuckerberg.