Facebook pitch as force for good not hate

·2-min read

Facebook concedes the internet needs new road rules but wants to keep its billions of users in the driver's seat.

Whether governments choose to tighten online debate or private companies do it, don't assume people can't be trusted, the social media giant's spin doctor has warned.

Vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg said in an essay published overnight critics were wrong to say minds were being controlled by algorithms or sinister intentions of Big Tech masters.

There is no editor dictating the front page headline that millions of people might read on Facebook.

Instead there's a "rich feedback loop" and billions of front pages, each personalised to individual tastes and preferences, and each reflecting a unique network of friends, pages, and groups.

The social media platform has 2.80 billion monthly active users and 1.84 billion who use it every day.

"This is a dramatic and historic democratisation of speech," Mr Clegg said.

"Political and cultural elites are confronting a raucous online conversation that they can't control, and many are understandably anxious about it."

But, feeling the heat from regulators in Australia and elsewhere, Mr Clegg concedes ground rules are needed.

Accused of being an echo chamber of harm and manipulation, there's a public relations war to be won.

He knows social media companies must also come clean about how algorithms work.

"And tech companies need to know the parameters within which society is comfortable for them to operate, so that they have permission to continue to innovate," Mr Clegg said.

"The reality is, it's not in Facebook's interest - financially or reputationally - to continually turn up the temperature and push users towards ever more extreme content."

The vast majority of Facebook's revenue is from advertising and advertisers don't want their brands and products displayed next to extreme or hateful content.

Last year's #StopHateForProfit boycott by civil rights groups saw more than 1000 companies stop paying for ads on Facebook.

Facebook was forced to curb its streaming feature in response to global criticism, after material from the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand was freely shared.

At the time, world leaders said the fact Facebook had to remove 1.5 million copies of a gunman killing 51 people was a stark reminder to do more to stop it.

Facebook's recent decision to stop recommending civic and political groups to users in the United States is now being expanded globally.

Facebook is also considering how to reduce the amount of political content in news feeds in response to "strong feedback" from users that they want to see less of it.