On a press call Wednesday announcing updates to the company’s response to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the Facebook co-founder and CEO told reporters he is “definitely working from home,” as the company has asked all of its approximately 45,000 employees to do with the exceptions of certain functions like server maintenance.
“Like everyone is experiencing, it’s a big change to be working from home,” Zuckerberg said. “I don’t think it would be very good to encourage everyone else to do that and then not do that myself.” Zuckerberg acknowledged that he expects Facebook worker productivity to decline while they work remotely.
Zuckerberg’s comments came on a call during which he announced that Facebook is launching the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information Center, a new module that will be featured at the top of users’ News Feeds with authoritative information from organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC. “We certainly want it to be global in the next 24 hours,” he said. The first countries the informational feature is scheduled to appear in are the U.S., the U.K., Italy, France, Germany and Spain.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information Center will include real-time updates from national health authorities and global organizations, as well as articles, videos and posts about social distancing and preventing the spread of the virus, according to Facebook. Users will be able to follow the coronavirus information feed to get notifications.
Facebook released a mockup of what the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information Center will look like:
On Tuesday, Facebook users complained that articles they tried to post on the service were being marked as “spam” and not viewable on the service. According to Facebook VP for integrity Guy Rosen, the company fixed the problem last night, which he said was related to a bug in Facebook’s automated anti-spam system. Rosen said the issue wasn’t specifically related to coronavirus stories, and he denied a suggestion that the problem stemmed from Facebook’s shifts in content moderation staff.
On the call Wednesday, Zuckerberg reiterated those points. “This was just a technical error,” he said. “We hopefully won’t have that issue again anytime soon.”
Zuckerberg told reporters, “I’m personally quite worried that the isolation from people being at home could potentially lead to more depression or mental health issues.” As such, he said, Facebook is increasing staff dedicated to monitoring user posts for signs of self-harm or suicide: “We want to make sure we are ahead of that.”
Zuckerberg also denied reports that Facebook is among tech companies allegedly in talks with the CDC and the White House to use smartphone location data to track the spread of coronavirus in the U.S., as was first reported by the Washington Post on Tuesday. “We’re not aware of any active conversations with the U.S. or other governments at this point asking for access to that data specifically,” Zuckerberg said. However, he did cite Facebook’s Disease Prevention Maps, which it provides to nonprofit organizations and researchers; that initiative, announced in May 2019, uses anonymized Facebook user data to track movement and connectivity of populations in geographic areas.
Facebook also announced that it is offering Workplace Advanced collaboration tool to government agencies and emergency services free of charge for 12 months. The tool “can help inform and connect their employees, allowing them to share critical information in real-time and enabling leadership to reach employees via live videos, posts and more,” Facebook said.
The new features come a day after Facebook announced that it will offer $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses that need assistance during the coronavirus crisis. And also this week, Facebook said it would grant a $1,000 bonus to all full-time employees. Zuckerberg noted on the call that Facebook, as previously announced, is continuing to pay hourly workers affected by office closures.
On Monday, Facebook, together with Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit and Twitter, issued a joint statement saying they were coordinating COVID-19 response efforts. “We’re helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world,” the companies said.