Facebook Can't Eradicate Hate Speech on Platform, Top Executive Says

It is not possible to eradicate all hate speech from the social media platform Facebook, according to one of the most senior executives at its parent company, Meta.

Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications at Meta, and former deputy prime minister of the UK, addressed the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal via video link on Tuesday.

During a conversation with Financial Times news editor Matthew Garrahan, Clegg was asked about Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen—who also spoke at the conference on Monday evening.

He rejected the suggestion that hate speech is profitable for social media platforms and defended Facebook's actions to quash it, though he conceded it will always exist on them. "I wish we could get it down to zero, we never will," Clegg said.

Clegg was asked if Facebook, which rebranded its company name to Meta last week—though the social media platform's name will remain the same—considers Haugen a "legitimate whistleblower."

After saying he was having some issues hearing the questions, Clegg said: "Of course whistleblowers are entitled to blow the whistle as they see it and to describe the world as they see it. I have no, sort of, comments or objections to that at all. Equally, there are always two sides to the story."

Clegg went on to summarize what he saw as Haugen's "fundamental assertions" and why, in his view, they are wrong.

One, he said, was that "Meta algorithmically spoon-feeds people, deliberately provides people with extreme, hateful, unpleasant content to keep them perpetually riled up and engaged because that somehow assists in increasing our profits."

"I genuinely think that that gets the—I mean I'm not inviting anyone to suggest that people working at Meta are angels, far from it—I think that actually genuinely misreads the commercial self-interest of Meta and other apps like Facebook Instagram and so on," Clegg said.

"The people who pay, who generate those profits, are, of course, advertisers. They do not want their content next to unpleasant content."

He said Haugen "quite rightly pointed out herself" during testimony to the U.K.'s House of Commons that "our own research shows that users won't continue to use our product if they are getting a bad experience."

Clegg continued: "That kind of makes sense because you know if generating revenue for Meta is all about having people look at ads, click on ads, buy and sell things online, I don't think riling people up into a sort of semi-permanent state of fury is the best way of actually having people look at ads and have a pleasant experience and buy and sell things."

That is why Facebook spends money on reducing such content on its platform, he said, while also admitting that hate speech will never be completely wiped from it.

"That's the reason why we invest all that money—about $13 billion over the last few years, $5 billion this year alone, 40,000 people exactly trying to bear down on that unpleasant content," Clegg said.

"And we publish every 12 weeks how much hate speech there is on—for instance on Facebook—and it now stands at 0.05 percent.

"So that means for every 10,000 bits of content you see on your feed only five will be hate speech. I wish we could get it down to zero, we never will. But I do think it illustrates that our incentives are to keep actually reducing, not amplifying, the content—which I think seems to be the central assertion."

In details released in October, Meta said: "Our technology is having a big impact on reducing how much hate speech people see on Facebook. According to our latest Community Standards Enforcement Report, its prevalence is about 0.05% of content viewed, or about 5 views per every 10,000, down by almost 50% in the last three quarters."

Clegg said Facebook and other platforms are caricatured in debates over how they operate.

"I do think sometimes what happens I think in these debates, particularly when they are so intense, is a sort of caricature is established which doesn't in my view help us identify the problems and therefore craft the right solutions," he said.

However, Clegg said Haugen's whistleblowing will accelerate the pace of action on several issues.

"If there's any silver lining to all of this, at least for us at Meta, it is that I think that this will accelerate more transparency, including over algorithms, more research, including about kids online, and more regulation," he said.

"I hope sensible regulation. Of course, you need new rules of the road for these industries. Meta is only 16 years old. These are young industries on a journey, moving fast."

Haugen has made a range of accusations, previously reported by Newsweek, asserting that the company focuses on "growth over safety while questioning actions taken to combat hate speech.

Newsweek has sought comment from Haugen.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen at Web Summit
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is interviewed onstage at a crowded Altice Arena on the opening night of the 2021 Web Summit on November 1, 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal. Horacio Villalobos/Corbis/Getty Images