Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday said the social network will permanently stop recommending civic and political groups to users of the platform, AFP reported.
Facebook groups are communities that form around shared interests. Public groups can be seen, searched and joined by anyone on Facebook.
The social media company had already halted recommendations of political groups for the United States in October to prevent the spread of misleading information ahead of the Presidential elections, according to Reuters. On Wednesday, Facebook said it would be making this permanent, and would expand the policy globally.
“We plan to keep civic and political groups out of recommendations for the long term and we plan to expand that policy globally,” Zuckerberg said on a conference call with analysts about Facebook’s earnings.
He added that Facebook would also reduce political content in users’ main news feeds as part of a push “to turn down the temperature and discourage divisive conversation”.
Several watchdog and advocacy groups have pushed for Facebook to limit algorithmic group recommendations. They have argued that some Facebook groups are used as spaces to spread misinformation and organise extremist activity.
The social network’s image has also been tarnished by political controversies, including allegations of aiding former US President Donald Trump’s rise to the White House. Facebook last week said it was asking its independent experts to rule on whether Trump’s suspension for “fomenting insurrection” at the US Capitol should stand.
Facebook and Instagram had suspended Trump’s account after his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, an attack that led to Trump’s unprecedented second impeachment. “We believe our decision was necessary and right,” Facebook’s Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said in a blog post at the time.
The company has recently faced intense scrutiny in India as well, over allegations that Facebook overlooked hate posts made by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders on its platform. It started with a Wall Street Journal article in August that reported that Facebook’s India’s Public Policy Director Ankhi Das opposed the idea of removing incendiary posts by BJP leaders, warning that this could hurt the company’s “commercial interests” in its biggest market, India. Das stepped down from her position on October 27.
Several other reports have pointed towards the company’s bias towards the BJP. According to one such report, Facebook removed 14 of the 44 pages flagged by the BJP for being opposed to it in January 2019. In August 2020, it had also emerged that the BJP was the top advertiser on Facebook on “social issues, elections and politics” over the previous 18 months, according to the social media platform’s advertising spending tracker information.