Facebook Will `Do Better' to Stem Abuse, Sandberg Vows

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. promised “to do better” to boost privacy, stem the spread of hate speech and clamp down on the abuse of the social network to influence votes, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told a Brussels audience, including a European Union commissioner.

"We know that tech companies need to do better and that we at Facebook need to do better. We have a lot to improve," Sandberg said. "We have not done enough to stop abuse of our technology."

Facebook and other internet platforms are facing a wave of legislation across Europe that may force them to do more to stop terrorist content appearing and spreading online. New privacy rules come into force across the EU in May that could levy heavy fines on companies that don’t comply. Regulators are also looking at how some online platforms may have been misused to unfairly swing votes, such as the British poll to leave the EU.

Facebook wants "to help people take control of their data" and will put users’ privacy settings in one place to make it easier to manage, Sandberg said. The company will also try to explain to users how advertising works. The company is investing in artificial intelligence and in hiring up to 20,000 people by the end of the year to identify and remove harmful content, including hate speech and material that promotes terrorism, she said, adding that the company can try to offer an antidote by challenging extremist narratives.

‘Eye Catching’

"We remove a lot of content but we can always do better in enforcing policies," Sandberg said. "We look to Europe for continued leadership in this area, including the hate speech code of conduct." Facebook is "never going to be able to stop" fake news entirely but will go after fake accounts and disrupt an ad model that rewards clicks on eye-catching content, she said.

Germany has now begun enforcing Europe’s toughest law aimed at reining in hate speech and fake news on social media, threatening to fine the likes of Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., and Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube as much as 50 million euros ($61 million) if they refuse to delete illegal posts.

The comments from Sandberg on Europe’s leadership clash with the thoughts of other Facebook executives. Speaking at the DLD conference in Munich on Sunday, Elliot Schrage, the company’s vice president of public policy, said Germany’s new law goes too far.

‘Bad Idea’

"The law places the responsibility for us to be judge and jury and enforcer, determining what is legally required or not, on the private sector, on us as a platform," he said. "And I think that’s a bad idea."

Facebook is trying "to move much faster to address concerns," including European politicians’ call for internet firms to pay tax in the country where the revenue is made, said Sandberg. "We heard the debate in Europe around tax and we are voluntarily changing" and will pay tax locally on revenue where it’s earned.

Germany’s new coalition government named Facebook as one internet firm that should pay "fair taxation" as it called for companies to stop trying to play different EU states off against each other.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.