Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg reportedly approved a new internal effort to defend the tech giant’s reputation on users’ News Feeds last month, what would be a dramatic shift in policy amid criticism over the spread of misinformation on social media.
The New York Times first reported Tuesday that Zuckerberg signed off on the effort, called Project Amplify, in August. That plan included proposals to elevate positive stories about Facebook on users’ feeds, the site’s most popular section, including posts written by Facebook itself. The publication, citing people familiar with the project, said some top officials at the company were shocked at the idea.
Project Amplify has since been tested in three U.S. cities, the Times added. A company spokesperson, Joe Osborne, told the newspaper that any positive posts were part of a “test for an informational unit” and “clearly marked as coming from Facebook,” linking them to other company’s corporate responsibility programs.
Osborne later said on Twitter that there had been “zero changes” to the way Facebook’s News Feed ranked posts.
But the project is a departure from Facebook’s past efforts to merely apologize for issues stemming from misinformation and hate speech. Zuckerberg himself became the public face of such efforts, apologizing for Russian influence campaigns that proliferated on the site during the 2016 election and pledging to increase transparency.
The tech news site The Information first reported in May that Zuckerberg wanted to recast himself from crisis manager to tech innovator and has spent 2021 highlighting Facebook’s advances rather than explaining its detriments.
Still, the company has faced a barrage of criticism, notably during the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting executives to launch Project Amplify.
The Times’ story follows a series of bombshell reports by The Wall Street Journal last week based on internal documents alleging Facebook downplayed the negative effects of Instagram on young girls and didn’t take harsh action even as it saw COVID-19 vaccine misinformation spread on its platform.
Facebook vehemently objected to the characterizations, saying the Journal published a “lopsided view” of its policies.
“This impugns the motives and hard work of thousands of researchers, policy experts and engineers at Facebook who strive to improve the quality of our products, and to understand their wider (positive and negative) impact,” Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post this weekend.