Clegg: Facebook is mainly ‘barbecues and bar mitzvahs’

Spread the love


Sir Nick Clegg, Meta’s head of global affairs, has defended the firm formerly known as Facebook at the Web Summit.

Only the day before, whistleblower Frances Haugen had opened the conference in Lisbon by calling on boss Mark Zuckerberg to resign.

Sir Nick said she was entitled to her views but that there were “two sides to the story”.

And he claimed most of Facebook’s content was user-generated “barbecues and bar mitzvahs”.

“Whistleblowers are entitled to blow whistles and describe the world as they see it,” he told Matthew Garrahan, news editor of the Financial Times, in an interview on the Web Summit stage, which he joined via a live link-up to California.

But “the fundamental assertion that Meta algorithmically spoon-feeds hateful content because that increases our profits” was wrong, he said.

The former UK deputy prime minister reiterated the $14bn (£10.3bn) the company had put into keeping the community safe and the 40,000 moderators it employs.

And he said that at just 16 years old, the firm was “young” and still learning.


Sir Nick also tried to distance the company from the idea that Facebook’s recommendations formed the majority of content on the platform.

“The caricature in the media is the idea that people are helplessly receiving a content menu served up by the Facebook algorithm,” he said.


Frances Haugen at Web Summit


He said less than 10% was recommended. The other 90% of content was “shaped heavily” by user choices, based on friends, groups and pages they follow. And he said less than 4% of content was of a political nature.

But he acknowledged that the firm had been hit with “trenchant criticism” and needed to be more transparent.

Coming clean

Sir Nick said the firm had considered delaying the Meta rebrand and the new focus on the metaverse in the wake of Frances Haugen’s appearance before politicians in the US and the UK, and subsequent media coverage.

“We considered whether we move the announcement, as there was plenty of attention on us already and this would create more,” he said.

But he added: “We thought it was the right moment to come clean about the focus of the company, building towards the Metaverse.”

Asked if Meta would be acting on the criticism raised by Ms Haugen, he cited the example of how its use of a cross-check program – a system that looked at the content of high-profile accounts – had been referred to its oversight board.

Apple swipe

He denied a key early claim from the leaks that internal research suggested the firm knew that Instagram harmed teenagers, saying Meta’s attitude was “mischaracterised”.

But, he added, Meta had nevertheless decided to rethink its plans for a version of Instagram for children.

At the end of the interview he took a swipe at Apple, which earlier this year made updates to its operating system, allowing users to choose whether to share data with apps – in turn knocking billions off of Facebook’s ad revenue.

Given that Apple takes a cut of the revenue of apps on its store, he said the decision was “a flagrant example of double standards”.

“Apple merits a considerable amount of scrutiny, too,” he suggested.

This year’s Web Summit has strict Covid measures in place and a reduced audience of 40,000.

Organisers were unsure whether people would return to the event, which was forced to go virtual last year, due to the pandemic, but tickets have sold out.

Spread the love