After a year of research and discussion, Facebook shelved “Common Ground”, a project that was aimed at reducing hateful comments and encouraging users to engage in civil political discourse on the platform. The proposed fix was feared to trigger claims of bias against conservatives, according to people familiar with the decision.
What is Common Ground?
Hyped and hailed as a cogent way for Facebook to allow people to interact in less hostile ways, the initiative was meant to bring together several different projects. Aimed at “minimis[ing] toxic content and encourag[ing] more civil discussion” on the site, “Common Ground” could have opened a backdoor for Facebook at a time when the site has become a playground for conservative
The blueprint had included features that would have introduced crucial changes to how the News Feed was ranked and de-emphasise “hateful” comments. By boosting articles with reactions and comments by a range of users across the political spectrum, Facebook was on the verge of unlocking a feature that could open people up to diverse viewpoints and healthier political discussions.
Joel Kaplan’s role in canning the project
As a prominent conservative executive, Kaplan even opined that the term “Common Ground” was
Recently, he became a source of tension within the firm for playing a visible role in Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, when he attended the Congressional hearing on sexual assault allegations against the then-nominee.
Several publications have claimed that Kaplan is now the voice for American conservatives in Zuckerberg’s firm, at a time when pressure on the firm to adopt egalitarian policies is mounting and web activists have urged the network to actively protect users from xenophobia, racism, homophobia, abusive content, and extremism of any form.
Shortly after the project was scrapped, spokespersons claimed that the firm would nonetheless continue to study polarisation on the platform.
Impact on Trump’s presidency
Information, or the lack thereof, has the power to topple governments, as evinced in the controversy over Russian interference and collusion in the 2016 presidential campaign. The fact that data harvested over social media can manipulate the very pillars of democracy has led to an interesting debate about information and the dissemination of it. Facebook itself is trying to navigate murky political waters over several privacy breach scandals.
Critics have voiced concerns regarding the platform’s existing policies, which may be used to sway the conservative vote for US president Donald Trump in 2020.
The reason Facebook has offered for scrapping Common Ground is founded in fears that exposure to unbiased information about political issues might lead more conservatives to change their minds. This could paint the site in a liberal light, some executives have complained. Conservative lawmakers like Ted Cruz have even accused it of left wing bias.
Google also faced allegations for apparently suppressing positive news about Trump, a question that CEO Sundar Pichai was asked at his Congressional hearing last month.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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