Facebook exec Nick Clegg said he couldn’t give a ‘yes or no answer’ on whether its algorithms boosted insurrection sentiments ahead of Jan. 6 riot

20 January 2020, Bavaria, Munich: Nick Clegg, Head of Policy at Facebook, speaks on stage during the DLD (Digital Life Design) innovation conference. Clegg has defended the decision to stick to advertising with political content, unlike Twitter and Google.
20 January 2020, Bavaria, Munich: Nick Clegg, Head of Policy at Facebook, speaks on stage during the DLD (Digital Life Design) innovation conference. Clegg has defended the decision to stick to advertising with political content, unlike Twitter and Google.
  • A Facebook executive told CNN he couldn't give "a yes or no answer" when asked whether its algorithms amplified pro-insurrection voices leading up to January 6.
  • A Facebook whistleblower testified before Congress last week, saying the company consistently resolves conflicts "in favor of its own profits."
  • A member of the congressional committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection said the whistleblower should testify before the committee.

Facebook Vice President Nick Clegg sidestepped questions on Sunday about whether its algorithms worked to the benefit of insurrectionists leading up to the January 6 Capitol riot.

When Clegg, who appeared Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," was asked about whether the site's algorithms amplified pro-insurrection sentiments leading up to January 6, he said he couldn't answer the question because the site has "thousands" of algorithms that determine a Facebook user's experience. That includes "ranking algorithms" that determine which content a user sees frequently, he added.

"Given we have thousands of algorithms and you have millions of people using this, I can't give you a yes or no answer to the individual personalized feeds each person uses," Clegg told CNN's Dana Bash on Sunday.

Clegg said that if the algorithms were removed, users would see more hate speech and misinformation.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at the company, testified before a Senate committee on October 5 after she leaked internal documents that raised questions about the company's business practices.

As Insider previously reported, Haugen shared the documents showing the company knew Instagram negatively impacted the mental health of its young users, and that employees were worried that a 2018 algorithm change further promoted sensationalistic and divisive content.

Facebook has largely denied Haugen's claims.

Since Haugen's testimony, Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection, has said Haugen should testify before the committee to "get internal info from Facebook to flesh out their role."

In his interview with CNN, Clegg said the insurrectionists were the ones responsible for the Capitol siege.

"We cooperate with law enforcement, of course, to give them content that might have shown up on our platform, but let's be clear," he said. "Of course, January 6, the responsibility for that is for the people who broke the law, who inflicted the violence, who aided and abetted them, who encouraged them both in politics and in the media."

Bash pressed Clegg on Sunday, asking if the company's apparent uncertainty on the matter was problematic.

"The whole point, of course, of Facebook is that each person's newsfeed is individual to them. It's like a sort of individual fingerprint, and that's basically determined by the interaction of your choices, your friends, your family, the groups you choose to be part of, and those ranking algorithms that I referred to earlier," Clegg said.

In addition to fallout from the Congressional testimony, last week Facebook also dealt with a massive outage that impacted Facebook and all of its popular products, including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger.

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