CEO of Facebook Israel says company should have predicted meddling, abuse

Hoping to regain public trust, Adi Soffer-Teeni admits social media site failed to prevent spread of disinformation, but says it doesn’t want to be the arbiter of truth

Facebook Israel CEO Adi Soffer-Teeni gives an interview to Hadashot news that aired on August 12, 2018. (screen capture: Hadashot)
Facebook Israel CEO Adi Soffer-Teeni gives an interview to Hadashot news that aired on August 12, 2018. (screen capture: Hadashot)

Facebook is going through a difficult period and must win back public trust following a series of privacy scandals and questions about the company’s conduct and policies, Facebook’s Israel CEO Adi Soffer-Teeni said Saturday.

“We’re going through a period that is not easy,” she told Hadashot TV news in a rare interview aired on Saturday evening, adding that the company could have done more in the past to avoid its current woes.

“I think we need to earn back the public’s trust, and that’s why I’m here,” Soffer-Teeni said.

Facebook has drawn fire in recent months for a series of scandals that have shined a harsh light on the company’s business practices — its role in the spread of fake or malicious items especially in the lead-up to the 2016 US presidential elections, the use of its data and platform by firms meddling in elections, and its free speech policies.

Soffer-Teeni admitted that steps Facebook was taking now coming too late and said she was aware the public has many questions about the social media giant and its role as a tech company and platform.

“We needed to first understand the central role we were in,” she said, but added that it was only clear in retrospect. “I think the company did not do enough to try and predict the type of meddling or the types of malign uses, new uses.”

Facebook’s motto went from “move fast and break things” to “move fast and make things” in 2014 because it realized the magnitude of its role and responsibility in releasing new products and services for the world, she said.

“Today, a product is launched only after a product manager has thought about all the potential malicious uses of of it, and that wasn’t the spirit at the company a few years ago,” Soffer-Teeni said.

The interview by Soffer-Teeni came as the tech giant has sought to tamp down criticism and open up about its policies after botched responses to many of the scandals.

In April, it published for the first time the detailed guidelines its moderators use to police unacceptable material. It has provided additional, if partial, explanations of how it collects user data and what it does with it. And it has forced disclosure of the funding and audience targeting of political advertisements, which it now also archives for public scrutiny.

This combination of images provided by Facebook shows examples from suspicious accounts the social networking site discovered on its platform that it says is possibly linked to Russia with the intention of influencing US politics (Courtesy of Facebook via AP)

Facebook has made efforts recently to identify and remove pages or bots suspected of being controlled by third parties, including Russian troll farms seen as having had an influence in the 2016 election by spreading fake news.

It has also been scrutinized following allegations that political consultant Cambridge Analytica used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters and help US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

And the company continues to grapple with big existential questions, ranging from its users’ privacy to tech addiction to how it deals with fake news and misinformation, hate speech and extremism on its service.

Last month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg came under fire for saying the site would not remove someone for denying the Holocaust, reflecting the tightrope the company is trying to walk between fostering free speech and policing hate speech.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 10, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Soffer-Teeni in the interview defended Zuckerburg’s remarks, but indicated she did not personally agree with the company’s policy of tolerating Holocaust denial posts on its platform.

“I don’t believe that on a personal level that Mark thinks that denying the Holocaust is something legitimate or acceptable,” she said, “but his perception is that even things that are shocking are allowed to be said.”

“I don’t have to agree with every single company policy,” Soffer-Teeni added. “I do agree on the principles driving us to address the issue of fake news, and that is that we do not want to be the arbiters of what’s true and what isn’t or who’s right and who’s wrong, because that’s too much power.”

AP contributed to this report.


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