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Facebook VP David Marcus on Russia Election Meddling: ‘Sometimes Bad Things Happen’

October 18, 2017, 5:01 PM UTC

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.—You’ve no doubt seen the headlines.

“Facebook, Google, Twitter asked to testify on Russian meddling” reported Reuters.

“How Russia used social media to divide Americans” explained the Guardian.

“Facebook Knows More About Russia’s Election Meddling. Shouldn’t We?” asked the New York Times.

It has no doubt been a year of reflection for Menlo Park, Calif. media giant Facebook, whose namesake social network unknowingly played a part in the extraordinary result of the 2016 U.S. election. The company has long emphasized that its network reflected society as a whole; this year, its optimism dimmed somewhat following the network’s apparent misuse by Russian operatives, who ran Facebook ads that amplified social and political messages to sway voters’ opinions.

“The narrative about Facebook as of late has not been super positive,” said David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging, here at the Wall Street Journal’s D.Live conference.

That’s a shame, Marcus said, because it does so much good, too. If you suffer from an unusual disease and can’t find people like you to talk to, Facebook can help with that. Much of the social network’s global impact is good, he argued: “Let’s not just forget all the good that the Facebook platform and its various products bring to the world.”

Still, Marcus acknowledged that Facebook’s role had grown to a point where it couldn’t just wish away the ills of the world.

“When you design a platform that reaches 2 billion people every month, sometimes bad things happen,” Marcus said. “We shouldn’t tolerate those things or let them happen.”

That’s why Facebook is hiring more than a thousand human editors to review ads, he said, despite the fact that such a move goes against the core value of what a “platform” offers: technology at scale.

“I’m absolutely confident that we have the right plan and that we will be able to remediate those things,” Marcus said. It won’t be perfect, he cautioned, but Facebook will try its best.