Outgoing Facebook executive Elliot Schrage had some positive words for Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, even as the VP of communications and public policy leaves the social network amid a storm of controversy.
Most recently, on Wednesday, U.K. Parliament released a trove of documents suggesting Facebook gave some app developers preferential access to data.
“My feeling is that Mark has been an extraordinary leader and has done an extraordinary job across two or three dimensions, one of which is identifying technologies to provide extraordinary opportunities for people to connect with each other and share information in ways they’ve never been able to do before, and that is unprecedented, that he did this as a college kid,” Schrage said during a panel on Wednesday at The Atlantic’s Free Speech (Un) Limited conference in San Francisco California. “I think it is also true, and he’s recognized, that while he has been an extraordinary product visionary, he has also been more idealistic than the real world permits.”
During the discussion, Schrage also broadly acknowledged and reiterated Facebook’s shortcomings when it came to the social network’s aggressive quest for growth. However, he also emphasized that Facebook (FB) was making the necessary moves on multiple fronts, including hiring thousands of human content moderators to vet posts published on the social network.
“Mark has said explicitly, that in the growth of Facebook, in the evolution of the service, the company focused more on offering the benefits, and focusing on delivering the benefits of access to information, connection to friends and family, and then focusing on the risks, and that was a mistake,” Schrage said. “The only thing I would say, to suggest that Facebook or Google have not made extraordinary investments since the mistakes have been acknowledged is just wrong. We have 30,000 people now involved in some way in content restrictions, in content moderation restricting hate speech and preventing bad content from distributing. We’ve made extraordinary investments in machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to prevent content from being distributed. To suggest that Facebook or Google have not made extraordinary investments since the mistakes have been acknowledged, it’s just wrong. … So sure, I think we were all slow, and Facebook, in particular has been slow, in identifying it and has moved very, very quickly in responding.”
Schrage’s comments come as the 10-year Facebook veteran winds down his tenure with the social network, with former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg set to replace him.
In late November, Schrage announced in a Facebook post he was taking responsibility for hiring Definers Public Affairs, a Republican-aligned public relations firm that conducted opposition research on the company’s critics, including billionaire George Soros. The revelations that Facebook hired the PR firm to conduction opposition research brought more scandal to the social network — the latest in a string of controversies kicked off in March with Cambridge Analytica.
“We hired Definers in 2017 as part of our efforts to diversify our DC advisors after the election,” Schrage wrote then in the Facebook post. “Like many companies, we needed to broaden our outreach. We also faced growing pressure from competitors in tech, telcos and media companies that want government to regulate us.”
Schrage reiterated on Wednesday that he and his communications teams were responsible for Definers Public Affairs. Still, given Facebook’s missteps this year and executive management’s shifting story around the scandals, it’s unlikely the critical firestorm will abate anytime soon.
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