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Zuckerberg stands by Facebook’s ad-supported business model during congressional hearing

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has emphasised the company’s commitment to its advertising funded model for the foreseeable future.

Answering questions before a US congressional committee examining the Cambridge Analytica scandal in Washington today, Zuckerberg stated “there would always be a version of Facebook that is free” but didn’t rule out the possibility of a future subscription version.

We don’t offer an option today for people to pay to not show ads,” Zuckerberg said. “We think offering an ad-supported service is the most aligned with our mission of trying to help connect everyone in the world, because we want to offer a free service that everyone can afford.”

Zuckerberg was responding to questioning from Florida Senator Eric Nelson about Facebook’s business model and comments yesterday by the company’s chair, Sheryl Sandberg, that users would have to pay for the social media service if it didn’t run advertising.

In his answer, Zuckerberg acknowledged that while people don’t like ads, they are particularly irritated by irrelevant advertising and Facebook applied both user preferences and its own algorithms to determine what to show users.

“What we found is that even though some people don’t like ads, people really don’t like ads that aren’t relevant.

“And while there is some discomfort for sure with using information in making ads more relevant, the overwhelming feedback that we get from our community is that people would rather have us show relevant content there than not.

“So we offer this control that – that you’re referencing. Some people use it. It’s not the majority of people on Facebook. And – and I think that that’s – that’s a good level of control to offer.

“I think what Sheryl was saying was that, in order to not run ads at all, we would still need some sort of business model.”

When being questioned by Nelson about Cambridge Analytica’s access to data, Zuckerberg repeated his previous apologies but noted he felt Facebook had been mislead by the data mining company.

“Senator, when we heard back from Cambridge Analytica that they had told us that they weren’t using the data and had deleted it, we considered it a closed case. In retrospect, that was clearly a mistake.

“We shouldn’t have taken their word for it, and we’ve updated our policies and how we’re going to operate the company to make sure that we don’t make that mistake again.”

Later, Zuckerberg outlined some of the problems Facebook has confronted as the service has grown over the past 15 years with moderating content and how artificial intelligence will help the company deal with inappropriate content and hate speech.

“From the beginning of the company in 2004 – I started in my dorm room; it was me and my roommate. We didn’t have AI technology that could look at the content that people were sharing. So – so we basically had to enforce our content policies reactively.

“People could share what they wanted, and then, if someone in the community found it to be offensive or against our policies, they’d flag it for us, and we’d look at it reactively. Now, increasingly, we’re developing AI tools that can identify certain classes of bad activity proactively and flag it for our team at Facebook.

“By the end of this year, by the way, we’re going to have more than 20,000 people working on security and content review, working across all these things. So, when content gets flagged to us, we have those people look at it. And, if it violates our policies, then we take it down.

“Some problems lend themselves more easily to AI solutions than others. So hate speech is one of the hardest, because determining if something is hate speech is very linguistically nuanced, right?”

Zuckerberg’s questioning continues in Washington.

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