Facebook toning down politics on platform in 'coming weeks'

Facebook will 'enable people to encourage in political groups and discussions if they want to,' CEO said

Facebook on Wednesday announced that it will officially start reducing the number of political posts that American users see on the platform "in the coming weeks."

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The changes come after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the company's fourth-quarter 2020 earnings call in January that he wants to "reduce the amount of politics" on the platform as social media sites face criticism for facilitating political divides.

"As a first step, we’ll temporarily reduce the distribution of political content in News Feed for a small percentage of people in Canada, Brazil and Indonesia this week, and the US in the coming weeks," Aastha Gupta, Facebook's product management director, said in a Wednesday statement.

Gupta continued: "During these initial tests we'll explore a variety of ways to rank political content in people's feeds using different signals, and then decide on the approaches we'll use going forward."

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Facebook will survey its users about their experience as the tests are conducted to get a better understanding of how people respond to the changes, she said.

Zuckerberg clarified during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call that the social media company will still "enable people to encourage in political groups and discussions if they want to."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen testifying remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. (REUTERS/Hannah McKay/Pool)

"One of the top pieces of feedback that we are hearing from our community right now is that people don't want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services," he said. "So, one theme for this year is that we're going to continue to focus on helping millions of more people participate in healthy communities, and we're going to focus even more on being a force for bringing people closer together."

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The company said in October that it was planning to pause recommendations for political groups to U.S. users ahead of the 2020 presidential election; now, Facebook is looking to make that pause permanent and on a global scale.

The Jan. 6 Capitol riots furthered demands for investigations into social media companies like Facebook and how they play a role in radicalizing people and instigating in-person violence.

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Other demands for censorship have led to debate among lawmakers, tech experts and civil rights groups about how social media giants should tackle violent or provocative speech that is shared across different platforms while simultaneously protecting free speech and privacy rights.

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The FBI told Fox News in January that it was "reviewing" requests from congressional lawmakers to investigate Facebook, Twitter and Parler for their potential roles in the Jan. 6 riots.