As Facebook faces a growing wave of criticism across a wide range of issues, the person in charge of crafting the company’s communications strategy wants you to know that executives understand they’ve messed up.
“This last year, it would be an understatement to say, has been a great challenge for those of us at Facebook,” said Elliot Schrage, vice president of global communications at Facebook. “Candidly, we have not done as good a job as we need to do because there is clearly an environment today of skepticism, anxiety, and concern over how we operate.”
Schrage made his remarks this weekend at DLD, a technology conference in Munich, Germany. While Facebook has faced a mounting backlash in the U.S. over fake news and hate speech, the outcry is even more acute in Europe. Over the past year, Facebook has encountered growing skepticism and tough questions from regulators across Europe who worry that the social network has become too powerful. Regulators have confronted the company over its taxes, its failure to block hate speech, how it handles users’ data, and its role in spreading fake news.
The company has launched a bit of a charm offensive by announcing today that it is expanding a digital skills program to train individuals and small businesses. Schrage’s appearance was also intended to make it clear that Facebook is hearing its critics’ message loud and clear, even as Schrage tried to argue against the need for regulation.
“Where it’s concerns about global connections and the economic risks of great global integration, the whole world seems to be spinning apart,” he said. “And it’s clear that many people believe that technology has been a force for accelerating that division … We want to demonstrate that we can bring people closer together.”
Schrage cited Facebook’s own shortcomings when he said: “We have over-invested in building new experiences and under-invested in preventing abuses.”
However, he said many moves to regulate the company present new dangers. He cited a new law in Germany that he argued would make Facebook the judge and jury of what constitutes fake news. “I’m not sure that the political discourse in Germany should be judged by any platform company,” he said.
Instead, Schrage said Facebook favored regulatory approaches such as the E.U.’s proposal for a code of conduct that requires companies to respond to notifications about illegal content in a timely fashion.