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Facebook Exec Says the Company Made Mistakes but Morale Remains High

Patrick Walker, Facebook’s director of media partnerships for the EMEA region, said Tuesday that the company had “made a number of mistakes” and “learned the hard way” during recent crises as it tried to balance access to its platform with screening harmful content and messages.

Walker said that there had “been a huge upswell of support internally” for COO Sheryl Sandberg but that Facebook employees have quizzed her and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on questions raised by The New York Times’ recent investigation into how the company responded to the scandals surrounding misinformation on the platform and misuse of data.

“It’s a very difficult job she’s in,” Walker said of Sandberg. “There’s been a very robust debate on trying to get some answers internally, and I think you’ve seen some of that externally as well.”

But morale remains high, and if outsiders were “privy to some of the internal chats and discussions that are happening, they would probably be impressed at how open people can be directly to Mark and Sheryl,” Walker told reporters at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch in London.

“We’ve made a number of mistakes by not anticipating, I think, some of the challenges a platform of our size and scope will bring, and we’ve learned the hard way,” he said. “Whether that be through distribution of misinformation, ads integrity, Cambridge Analytica with data integrity, but I can say with great confidence with every step we learn, we adapt and we approach our future with respect for the people that use the platform, with a big investment and a commitment to doing things as best we can, and improving those things.”

He said that the number of people at Facebook reviewing content has increased from 10,000 to 30,000 people.

Facebook has found itself in the cross-hairs recently over data harvesting and its relationship with the now-defunct research group Cambridge Analytica, political messaging on the platform, and the alleged use of PR firms to discredit Facebook critics, as reported by The New York Times. The company has denied some of the allegations in the Times’ article.

Politicians in the U.K. have also joined with their counterparts in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Latvia to demand that Zuckerberg attend a public inquiry into fake news. The Facebook chief has said he is not able to attend.

In terms of the impact of the negative publicity on partnerships, Walker said that Facebook had made strides in beefing up his team and setting up in new territories. “The biggest angst comes when they don’t know who to talk to or where to ask a question, so just by having things in place or [people] who are able to get information…and even sometimes to say, ‘I’m not sure, but these are the things we are committed to do with you,’ has helped a lot,” he said.

The company has opened up its platform to content companies and launched its Watch service internationally. Content companies are keener than ever to work with Facebook now that it has a robust global video platform that can provide a new revenue stream for producers, Walker said.

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