After dismissing as crazy, US President Donald Trump’s assertion that Facebook had tried to influence the presidential elections, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems to be changing his mind. While defending Facebook’s role, in a post, Zuckerberg has said “calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it.” While that looks just like Zuckerberg being polite, it is surely odd that, in the same post, he should also say, “we will do our part to defend against nation states attempting to spread misinformation and subvert elections.
We’ll keep working to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world…” And, as The Guardian reports, the Facebook founder and CEO had said last week it was “working to ensure the integrity of the German elections” and had taken action against thousands of fake accounts.
An article in Wired—Facebook can absolutely control its algorithm—takes this further by giving examples of how Facebook has managed to remove news/messages when this suits it. In 2011, Wired says, when it felt games from Zynga were a problem, it managed to limit how many messages gaming companies could send to Facebook users. The next year, when independent content apps like SocialCam and Viddy began annoying users, it started demoting content related to them. The algorithm, similarly, is able to ban nudity from its platform and, Wired claims, it has complied with requests from leaders in Vietnam and other countries to censor content critical of the government.
So, the next time you hear Facebook, or any other company like Twitter say they are just a platform and can’t be policing content—until there are requests to pull it down—take that with a big dollop of salt. The platforms have the ability to design/tweak their algorithms, and this capacity is only increasing over time.