Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg Defends Not Removing Doctored Nancy Pelosi Video

Sheryl Sandberg - 2017 Texas Conference for Women - Getty - H 2018
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Speaking at Cannes Lions, the COO said the social network would welcome regulation, adding, "Companies like ours shouldn't make as many decisions as we do."

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg defended the company's decision not to take down a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, discussed the Russian interference in the U.S. election and said the company would welcome stronger regulations in a wide-ranging talk Wednesday at Cannes Lions.

The COO said the decision to leave up the doctored Pelosi video, which was slowed down to make her appear drunk and slurring her words, has been “difficult,” but stood by the company's judgment.

“When something is misinformation, meaning it's false, we don't take it down, because we think free expression demands the only way to fight bad information is with good information,” she said, and added that doctored clips like the one of Pelosi are marked as false and algorithms deprioritize the video.

"Deepfakes," where videos are AI-generated to falsify words and speeches from individuals, are a bigger problem, and Sandberg said they are working with their engineers, but there is no solution yet.

The exec also said the company would welcome regulation from the U.S. and other governments. The company is currently working with French President Emmanuel Macron to create a new content model, and Sandberg sang the praises of Europe's tough data privacy law, GDPR, saying it should be a blueprint for the world.

“We are acknowledging that companies like ours shouldn't make as many decisions as we do, we know that,” she said. Sandberg also said that the company is applying the GDPR data rules globally on its own.

The COO also addressed the possible breakup of large tech companies in the U.S., but argued that large Chinese companies are a bigger threat.

“People are really worried about Chinese companies that are not going to be broken up by their government but are going to be pushed and exported around the world,” said Sandberg. “Behind closed doors on both size of the aisle, people are worried about Chinese companies, some of which are far bigger and have many more people and many more services than we do, and I think that's something that needs to be taken into account.”

Any antitrust legislation has its roots in consumer choice, the exec said, and she maintained that Facebook users do have alternatives with services like Google, Snapchat, iMessage or WeChat.

Sandberg also spoke about the Libra cryptocurrency, proposed on Tuesday, adding that it is not just a Facebook product but would be backed by 27 companies including PayPal, Mastercard and Uber. Legislators have already expressed concerns, and it would have to go through several regulatory hurdles. “We are a long way from launch, but this was an announcement of what we would like to do,” she said.

Sandberg continued with the social network's mea culpas, which has been the company's common line since Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg's congressional testimony last year, saying that missing the Russian interference with the U.S. presidential election in 2016 and the Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal were two of her hardest moments.

“We have a really big responsibility. There are things that we missed, that we wish we had understood. The Russian interference in the U.S. election — we didn't and we missed it," she admitted. "We have worked hard to get ahead of it, and I think we've done much better in the recent U.S. midterms.”

Sandberg said the company was worried about foreign actors at the time but believed the biggest threat was hacking, not the spread of misinformation. “Once that happened and we understood what happened, we knew we needed to put serious engineering and serious dollars into protecting our platform,” she said. The company has partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on this issue.

Sandberg said that going into the 2020 elections, the company is “going to be as prepared as we possibly can,” but that there are new threats appearing every day. Facebook shuts down a million fake accounts per day, she added.