Members of the Television Critics Association are renewing their questions about how Facebook handles Infowars -- a news and opinion outlet featuring founder Alex Jones -- and why Facebook decided to give Fox News equal status with other media organizations. TCA brings together 200 media critics in the U.S. and Canada who provide content to traditional and electronic media. Twice-yearly, TCA holds a press tour that allows members to hear presentations from various media organizations.
At its inaugural TCA presentation on Wednesday, Facebook tried to bring its focus on its strategy for Facebook Watch, its year-old media platform. Questions from TCA members took a confrontational tone. Facebook was asked by one of the participations to speak instead to its treatment of Infowars. Echoing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Product Vice President Fidji Simo said that the company is seeking to balance free speech with the safety of its users. “What we’re trying to do is make it so that, if you are saying something that is untrue, you’re allowed to say it, as long as you an authentic person,” Simo said. “We try to make it so that it doesn’t get much distribution.” Neither Infowars nor Facebook are being dropped by Facebook.
When content has been labeled untrue by its fact-checkers, Simo said that Facebook’s algorithms limit its distribution to that it will not spread. Facebook also flags erroneous information when users try to share it with others. “We send a pop up, ‘Hey you’re about to share something that a lot of people think is inaccurate,'” Simo said. “That decreases distribution by 80 percent.” Facebook currently has about 2 billion users around the planet.
Recently, Hollywood celebrities have been harshly critical of Fox News’s coverage of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, particularly about how illegal immigrant minors are treated. Among the critics was director Judd Apatow and Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane.
When a question arose at TCA about Facebook’s designation of Fox News as a legitimate news organization, Facebook’s head of global creative strategies Ricky Van Veen tried to avoid the question, saying, “I think we have limited time,” and adding, “Fidji and I are not in the news.”
"I'd love to talk about originals and Watch if we can." Simo said, while adding that the company has made a deal with CNN, under the purview of former CNN anchor Campbell Brown. As shouts emerged from the crowd, Simo framed Facebook’s policy as a question of fairness. “We are really trying to show a range of programming that shows a range of the political spectrum,” Simo said. She said that Infowars is “absolutely atrocious,” but that Facebook is seeking to “balance freedom of expression and safety. There is a big difference between what is allowed and what gets distribution." She also said that there have been no celebrities who have departed Facebook Watch in protest.
HBO and National Geographic Channel made presentations on Wednesday, while Amazon, AMC Networks and and Starz are slated for Saturday. Netflix is scheduled to offer a full day of panels on July 29. August 4 is the annual awards ceremony.
Infowars has also been under assault by YouTube, which is owned by Google. YouTube removed four videos from Alex Jones’ channel, which has 2.4 million subscribers. YouTube claims that the videos had content that violated the platform's policy about hate speech and child endangerment. All four of the videos are currently posted on Infowars.