Facebook executives promoting their video-on-demand service got into a combative exchange with reporters while at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Beverly Hills on Wednesday. The issue: the presence of right-wing conspiracy site Infowars and Fox News on the social network’s platform.
The kerfuffle started when Fidji Simo, Facebook’s vice president of video, was asked about Infowars stories on their platform while touting new Facebook Watch entertainment shows.
“To be totally transparent, I find Infowars to be absolutely atrocious,” Simo replied. “That being said, we have the hard job of balancing freedom of expression and safety. So the way we navigate that is we think there’s a pretty big difference between what is allowed on Facebook and what gets distribution. So what we’re trying to do is make it so that if you are saying something that’s untrue on Facebook — you’re allowed to say it as long as you’re an authentic person and you adhere to our community standards — but we’re trying to make it so it doesn’t get that much distribution .… We don’t always get it right, as you can imagine, it’s very complicated, but that’s sort of our principle for dealing with information.”
Reporter: How do you limit distribution?
“When we have something that we think — that a fact checker has told is probably not true, or a lot of our audience is telling us is not true, we just limit distribution. We tell our algorithms that this is probably not something we want to see distributed widely. So that’s one way. Another way, a lot of how misinformation spreads, is by people sharing the content.… We actually pop up a module that says, ‘Hey you’re about to share something our fact checker thinks is inaccurate, you may not want to do that.’ That decreases distribution very dramatically, north of 80 percent, that’s very effective at reducing the spread of it.”
Reporter: One of the most prominent organizations you’re working with is Fox News, and they’re sort of incorrigible about proliferating a lot of misinformation. Can you speak to your reasoning behind that? Why would you want to work with an organization like that when, as you said, you’re trying to limit the spread of false information?
At this, Rick Van Veen, head of global creative strategy at Facebook, jumped in: “Yeah, well, given that we have limited time. I’d like to keep it — Fidji and I don’t lead the news organization. Campbell Brown leads that…”
Another reporter in the background: Answer the question!
“We have limited time —”
Another reporter: We’ll give you time!
Simo: “We have a range of new shows we’re presenting —”
Reporter: But Fox News is still on every day, including the weekends on this programming list.
Simo: “So is CNN —”
This was met by some chortles in the crowd, presumably because they don’t think CNN and Fox News are remotely compatible when it comes to accuracy.
Simo: “We are really trying to show a range of programming that shows the range of the political spectrum.”
Note: Quotes in this story have been updated since publication.