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Facebook Exec Fidji Simo: Restricting Facebook Live Could Hurt Minorities

Facebook vice president Fidji Simo told the audience of Variety’s Silicon Valleywood presented by PwC on Tuesday that the company was carefully evaluating how to increase the safety of its live streaming feature in the wake of the New Zealand massacre. “We know that we need to do more to protect people on live,” she said, while also cautioning that the company wasn’t rushing to easy solutions.

One of those easy solutions would be to restrict live streaming to verified users with large audiences. Such an approach could harm minorities who often used the feature to document possible instances of police brutality, argued Simo. “They go live whenever they get pulled over by a cop,” she said. “These are normal people that go live every day, these are not celebrities.”

Simo said that much of Facebook’s work these days was focused on safety and security. “This is priority number one, for sure,” she said. And while the company was still struggling with issues like how to police live streams, Simo argued that Facebook had undergone a major transition since the 2016 election. “We are fundamentally not the same company that we were a year ago,” she said.

Simo’s fireside chat at Silicon Valleywood was her first public appearance since a major transition among Facebook’s senior executives in March, when chief product officer Chris Cox left the company alongside Whatsapp head Chris Daniels. At the time, Simo was elevated to lead the core Facebook app, after previously overseeing the company’s video business.

On Tuesday, Simo joked that she hadn’t forgotten about her content roots. “You don’t upend all your video and gaming roots that fast,” she quipped. Simo went on to argue that video could play a key role for Facebook to bring people together. “Entertainment is uniquely positioned to do that,” she said.

Her remarks came just as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been positioning the company on a path towards more private, one-to-one interaction in Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, with a smaller emphasis on its legacy newsfeed. Simo argued that both would be part of Facebook’s future. “Both the town square and the living room are important,” she said.

Simo said that a big focus of her organization going forward were groups and Stories, as well as new services that could be layered on top of Facebook’s public and private conversations, including Facebook’s marketplace and dating.

Asked about the company’s video business, Simo said that Facebook was cautious in its investments in original content. Facebook was primarily focused on building products like Facebook Watch that made video more social, and not spending as much as Apple and others — in part because of the hefty price tag for scripted content. “It’s pretty damn expensive,” she admitted.

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