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Web Summit 2021: Nick Clegg says Facebook is full of ‘babies, barbecues and bar mitzvahs’ not hate speech

·2-min read
Nick Clegg appearing via video link at Web Summit (Sportsfile)
Nick Clegg appearing via video link at Web Summit (Sportsfile)

Nick Clegg today admitted Meta, the recently rebranded Facebook, will never completely rid its platform of hate speech as the social media giant’s future dominated debate at Web Summit.

Appearing via glitchy video-link from California (where it was a bleary-eyed 4.45am), Clegg had hoped to tell thousands gathered for the tech conference in Lisbon about Facebook and Innovation in Europe.

But the session was almost entirely dominated by a defence of the allegations made by whistleblower Frances Haugen that Facebook is putting profits before the safety and welfare of its users, particularly teenagers and at-risk communities living in global conflict zones.

Clegg said “whistleblowers are entirely entitled to blow the whistle as they see it and describe the world as they see it” but rejected claims that Facebook deliberately promotes the most controversial content to “wind people up into a semi-permanent state of fury”.

He said: ”There are two sides to the story. Some of the fundamental assertions made is that Meta algorithmically, deliberately spoon-feeds people with extreme, hateful content to keep them perpetually wound up because that somehow increases our profits.

“This misunderstands the commercial self-interest of Meta. Advertisers do not want their content next to this kind of content. The vast majority of content on Facebook is babies, barbecues and bar mitzvahs.”

He claimed objectionable posts make up a vanishingly small percentage of Facebook’s content, adding: “I’d love to get that down to zero but we never will. But our purpose is to reduce, not amplify this content .”

Clegg, a former deputy prime minister who is now Meta’s VP of global affairs, dismissed suggestions that Haugen’s allegations - which have been discussed in Wall Street, Congress and Parliament - amount to a ‘big oil’ moment for social media.

He said: “The questions of whether we are moving fast enough to cover all the languages, particularly in at-risk countries, are totally legitimate. If there is any silver lining from this for Meta it is that it will bring about more research, more transparency and more regulation. We need new rules of the road.”

Clegg also took the opportunity to hit back at new privacy rules on data sharing introduced by Apple which prompts iPhone users to opt in to allow personalised ads.Most opted out and the tweak hit Facebook’s bottom line, wiping almost $10 billion from the revenues of Snap, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the second-half.

He said: “This is an old fashioned commercial landgrab where they are using their dominant position in one of the leading operating systems to tilt the scales in their favour. It’s absolutely not some highfalutin, high-minded reason. We think this is a flagrant example of double-standards. We will be looking at all options available to us.”

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