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Facebook Moves to Stop Election Misinformation

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook on Thursday moved to clamp down on any confusion about the November election on its service, rolling out a sweeping set of changes to try to limit voter misinformation and prevent interference from President Trump and other politicians.

In an acknowledgment of how powerful its effect on public discourse can be, Facebook said it planned to bar any new political ads on its site in the week before Election Day. The social network said it would also strengthen measures against posts that tried to dissuade people from voting. Postelection, it said, it will quash any candidates’ attempts at claiming false victories by redirecting users to accurate information on the results.

Facebook is bracing for what is set to be a highly contentious presidential election. With two months to go, President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. have ratcheted up their attacks against each other, clashing over issues including the coronavirus pandemic and racial unrest. Mr. Trump, who uses social media as a megaphone, has suggested that even when the results are in, he may not accept them, and he has questioned the legitimacy of mail-in voting.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, wrote in a post on Thursday that the divisions in the United States and the prospect of taking days or weeks to finalize election results could lead “to an increased risk of civil unrest across the country.”

Facebook’s changes indicate how proactive the Silicon Valley company has become on election interference, especially after it was slow to react to Russians using the service in 2016 to sway the American electorate and promote Mr. Trump. Since then, Mr. Zuckerberg has worked to prevent the social network from being misused, aiming to turn the tide of negative perception about his company.

But Facebook’s moves may already be too little and too late, critics said. Some of the measures, such as the blocking of new political ads a week before Election Day, are temporary. Misinformation and other toxic content also flows freely on Facebook outside of ads, including in private Facebook groups and in posts by users, which the company’s changes do not address.

Some of the actions may unintentionally make Facebook even more politicized before the election, critics said. When political ads are blocked on the site, right-wing publishers on Facebook, such as Breitbart and Fox News, could fill the vacuum, said Tara McGowan, the chief executive of the liberal nonprofit group Acronym.

“By banning new political ads in the final critical days of the 2020 election, Facebook has decided to tip the scales of the election to those with the greatest followings on Facebook — and that includes President Trump and the right-wing media that serves him,” she said in a statement.

The Trump campaign disputed that, saying people would instead be influenced on Facebook by ads from “biased” media. It added that the social network was censoring politicians.

“When millions of voters will be making their decisions, the president will be silenced by the Silicon Valley mafia, who will at the same time allow corporate media to run their biased ads to swing voters in key states,” said Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokeswoman.

Hours after rolling out its changes, Facebook applied its new rules to one of Mr. Trump’s posts on his Facebook page, in which he cast doubt on the vote-by-mail process. The company added a warning label that read, “Voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the U.S. and the same is predicted this year.”

Mr. Biden’s campaign didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Other social media companies, including YouTube and Twitter, have also moved to minimize political manipulation on their platforms. Twitter banned political advertising last year and has added labels to politicians’ tweets. On Thursday, Twitter also added a label to the tweet sent by Mr. Trump about voting that echoed his language on Facebook. YouTube has confirmed that it was holding conversations on postelection strategy, but has declined to elaborate.

Facebook, a key battleground for both presidential campaigns, has been most in the eye because of its billions of users. It has faced increasing scrutiny in recent months as domestic misinformation about this year’s election has proliferated. Yet Mr. Zuckerberg has declined to remove much of that false information, saying that Facebook supports free speech and that politicians’ posts are newsworthy. Many of the company’s own employees have objected to that position.

On Tuesday, Facebook said the Kremlin-backed group that interfered in the 2016 presidential election, the Internet Research Agency, had tried to meddle on its service again using fake accounts and a website set up to look like a left-wing news site. Facebook, which was warned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the Russian effort, said it had removed the fake accounts and news site before they gained much traction.

In his post, Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook had removed over 100 networks worldwide in the last four years that were trying to influence elections. But increasingly, the threats to undermine the legitimacy of the November election were coming “from within our own borders,” he said.

As a result, Facebook said, it will begin barring politicians from placing new ads on Facebook and Instagram, the photo-sharing service it owns, on Oct. 27. Existing political ads will not be affected. Political candidates will still be able to adjust both the groups of people their existing ads are targeting and the amount of money they spend on those ads. They can resume running new political ads after Election Day, the company said.

In another change, Facebook said it would place a voting information center — a hub for accurate, up-to-date information on how, when and where to register to vote — at the top of its News Feed through Election Day. The company had rolled out the voter information center in June and has continued promoting it, with a goal of registering four million people and encouraging them to vote.

To curb voting misinformation, Facebook said, it will remove posts that tell people they will catch Covid-19 if they vote. For posts that used the coronavirus to discourage people from voting in other, less obvious ways, the company said it would attach a label and link to its voter information center.

Facebook also widened its removal of posts that both explicitly and implicitly aim to disenfranchise people from voting; previously, the company took down only posts that actively discouraged people from voting. Now, a post that causes confusion around who is eligible to vote or some part of the voting process — such as a misstatement about what documentation is needed to receive a ballot — will also be expunged.

The company added that it would limit the number of people that users could forward messages to in its Messenger app to no more than five people, down from more than 150. The move mirrors what WhatsApp, the messaging app also owned by Facebook, did in 2018 when it limited message forwarding to 20 people from a previous maximum of 250. WhatsApp now limits message forwarding to five people maximum.

Misinformation across private communication channels is a much more difficult problem to tackle than on public social networks because it is hidden. Limiting message forwarding could slow that spread.

To get accurate information on the election’s results, Facebook said, it plans to work with Reuters, the news organization, to provide verified results to the voting information center. If any candidate tried declaring victory falsely or preemptively, Facebook said, it would add a label to those posts directing users to the official outcome.

Facebook teams have worked for months to walk through different contingency plans for how to handle the election. The company has built an arsenal of tools and products to safeguard elections in the past four years. It has also invited people in government, think tanks and academia to participate.

In recent months, Mr. Zuckerberg and some of his lieutenants had started holding daily meetings about minimizing how the platform could be used to dispute the election, people with knowledge of the company have said. Last month, Facebook employees asked how the social network would act if Mr. Trump tried to cast doubt on the election results, and Mr. Zuckerberg, at a staff meeting, said he found the president’s comment on mail-in voting “quite troubling.”

The chief executive helped drive the new election-related changes, according to two people familiar with the company, who declined to be identified because the details are confidential. On Tuesday, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, separately donated $300 million to support voting infrastructure and security efforts.

Mr. Zuckerberg added that Facebook would not make any further changes to its site between now and when there was an official election result.

“It’s going to take a concerted effort by all of us — political parties and candidates, election authorities, the media and social networks, and ultimately voters as well — to live up to our responsibilities,” he said.

Maggie Haberman and Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting.

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We Tested Instagram Reels, the TikTok Clone. What a Dud.

Millions of people have used the social media app TikTok to make and share short, fun, entertaining videos. I, Brian Chen, am not one of them.

Count me as one of those never-TikTokers. As an older millennial, I have exclusively used Facebook’s Instagram to post photos of my dog. I have never made a 15-second dance video.

But that all changed last week. That was when Facebook released a TikTok copycat called Reels, which is part of Instagram. Its introduction suddenly made making short videos a lot more interesting.

Facebook’s timing was brilliant. That’s because TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance, has been under major pressure from President Trump. He has identified TikTok as a national security threat and threatened to ban the app from the United States, prompting numerous panicked TikTokers to look for alternatives.

So here was an opportunity to test Reels and compare it with TikTok. I invited Taylor Lorenz, our internet culture writer and resident TikTok expert, to share her thoughts about how Facebook’s clone worked versus the real thing. With her experience and my novice knowledge, we could assess how both the never-TikTokers and the TikTok die-hards might feel about Reels.

The verdict? For her, it was: Not good. For me, it was: Confused.

Let’s start with what was copied. Both TikTok, a stand-alone app, and Reels, a feature inside Instagram, are free to use. With Reels, Instagram mimicked TikTok’s signature ability to create short video montages, which are overlaid with copyrighted music and embellished with effects like emojis and sped-up motion.

The similarities pretty much ended there — and not in a positive way for Instagram.

On Instagram, the videos are published to a feed known as the Explore tab, a mishmash of photos, sponsored posts and long-form videos. On TikTok, videos are surfaced through For You, a feed algorithmically tailored to show clips that suit your interests. Reels also lacks TikTok’s editing features, like song recommendations and automatic clip trimming, that use artificial intelligence to speed up the process of video creation.

Taylor and I each tested Reels for five days and then talked about what we had found. We didn’t hold back.

TAYLOR I can definitively say Reels is the worst feature I’ve ever used.

BRIAN Please elaborate. As a never-TikToker, I feel that it’s probably the worst Instagram feature I’ve used, too, but your feelings seem stronger than mine.

TAYLOR It’s horrible. Not only does Reels fail in every way as a TikTok clone, but it’s confusing, frustrating and impossible to navigate. It’s like Instagram took all the current functionality on Stories (a tool to publish montages of photos and videos with added filters, text and music clips), and jammed them into a separate, new complicated interface for no reason.

To me, it’s really unclear whom this feature is for.

BRIAN Let’s walk through how to use Reels.

To open the feature, you tap the Explore button (the magnifying glass) and open someone else’s reel before hitting the camera button to start creating your own reel.

So I have to watch someone else’s video before creating my own? This is a waste of time, battery life and cell data.

TAYLOR You can also create a reel by swiping right in Instagram to enter the camera and then selecting Reels, a button next to Story. Which is confusing.

BRIAN It’s totally undiscoverable without reading instructions. But OK, you find the button to create a reel. Then you can start recording videos or add videos you’ve already recorded. Then you can overlay music and some effects like emojis and color filters. Then you write a caption and publish.

How does this compare with TikTok?

TAYLOR TikTok is better in a million ways. The main one being that TikTok removes all of the friction that normally comes with trying to make a good video.

On TikTok, you can just grab a ton of videos (like, hit select on 17 different videos of all different lengths), and dump them all into the app and hit a button. TikTok will automatically select highlights from your videos and edit them in a way to match the beat of whatever sound you choose. This makes it so easy to create a really engaging, smooth video in under 10 seconds from a ton of footage.

Here’s an example of Reels versus TikTok of the same thing. You can see which is better!

Here’s the reel:


And here’s the TikTok video:


Oh, wait, did Reels save without sound?

BRIAN Yeah. Instagram said that there were restrictions and that they were working with third-party rights holders to expand its features. So when you save a video to your device after posting it, the music is automatically stripped away.

What you describe about TikTok just makes Reels sound so lacking. In Reels, you have to manually select where a music track starts to ensure it’s in sync with a clip. You’re saying TikTok automatically figures that out for you?

TAYLOR In TikTok, you have a feature called “sound sync,” which everyone uses. You upload a bunch of clips, and it will reorder and trim them to match whatever sound you choose. It also suggests the best songs for each video.

BRIAN Wow, really? That’s insane.

For music on Reels, I would hit the Audio button and just type in a word that came to mind to search for relevant songs. With this video of my corgi eating bread, I typed the word “hungry” to choose “Hungry Eyes.” Then I had to trim the clips and manually synchronize a portion of the song. That took me about 10 minutes.

Take a look:

Now take a look at an example of a failed reel that I never posted. I was trying to make a montage of dog butts being scratched. After adding the music, I was able to go back and trim the second clip to be in rhythm with the music, but couldn’t go backward to trim the first clip of scratching the Doberman’s butt.


Why am I able to edit the second clip but not the first clip? Instagram said it was still early days and that they were working on the ability to edit earlier clips. (Early days, my butt! They’ve been working on Reels for over a year.)

TAYLOR TikTok makes it very easy to create really entertaining short videos and makes it easy for that content to go viral. Reels makes it hard to create entertaining short videos — and even if you post them, the best you can hope for is to get a little distribution on a very crowded Explore page.

A big part of why TikToks go viral is that they can be easily downloaded and shared across platforms (with credit baked in because they’re watermarked with the handle).

Also, Reels is missing the ability to “duet” content, as you can on TikTok. Duets allow users to create side-by-side reaction videos. This is a core way users communicate and riff off each other. It’s basically the TikTok version of a quote tweet.

Finally, Reels has no “friends only” option. On TikTok, I’m able to post a video only mutual friends can see. I just want an easy way to post to my friends only.

BRIAN Right. Currently the simplest way to do that on Reels is to set your profile to friends-only so that all your posts are viewable only to friends. Otherwise, if you share a reel privately with a friend through a direct message, it acts like a Story and disappears after 24 hours. Which is confusing.

How long would you say you spent on making a TikTok versus a reel?

TAYLOR With TikTok, I can post a fun video of my day in under 15 seconds. Reels took me about five minutes.

Some people do spend an enormous amount of time editing their TikToks and making these really complicated and amazing videos. But for me, just a casual user who uses TikTok to capture fun highlights from my day-to-day life, that’s the time frame.

BRIAN As an Instagram user, I see no benefit to using Reels as opposed to Stories for posting videos. It’s extremely confusing for even us to use, which means it’s going to be much more confusing for casual tech users.

I’ll add that my followers didn’t seem impressed with Reels. The reel of my corgi, Max, eating bread got about 250 likes, down from the 300 to 400 likes that he usually gets from regular Instagram photos.

Maybe I’ll post more Reels one day if Instagram catches up with TikTok. But until then, I think you’ve persuaded me to start a TikTok.

TAYLOR I can’t see myself creating a Reel again. I might use it as a repository to re-upload my TikToks. But over all it just doesn’t have any of the video-editing ability that I’ve come to expect.

It’s also hard to find and discover other Reels. Part of why it’s so easy to be creative on TikTok is that you’re presented daily with a series of trends, memes or challenges. It makes it easy to see what other people are doing and hop on it or riff off it. I just don’t see what Reels is good for.

BRIAN That’s some reel talk.

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With TikTok Mired in Uncertainty, Facebook Pounces With Instagram Reels

SAN FRANCISCO — As the Chinese-owned video app TikTok works to head off the threat of a ban in the United States, Facebook has sensed opportunity.

On Wednesday, Instagram, the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook, released Reels. Just like TikTok, people can use Reels to create 15-second videos that are designed to be easily shareable. And just like TikTok, Reels allows users to sync up their video recordings with clips of music or audio files that they record themselves, while adding other effects, like augmented reality filters.

The timing of the release couldn’t be more on the nose. TikTok has been struggling through a geopolitical morass with President Trump. The White House, which has said TikTok is a national security threat because of its ownership by the Chinese internet company ByteDance, has said the app must sell its U.S. business within 45 days or face a ban.

Reels will be available widely starting Wednesday in more than 50 countries, including the United States, Britain and Japan. It will also be featured in India, one of Facebook’s key growth areas. In June, TikTok was banned in India as part of a crackdown on many Chinese apps.

“TikTok is doing big things in this format, as have apps and features like Snap, YouTube and others,” Instagram said in a statement. It added that it had also seen the rise of short-videos on its service. “No two services are the same and this responsiveness to consumer demand is competition at work and one of the longtime hallmarks of the tech sector,” it said. “It increases choice, which is good for people.”

TikTok declined to comment.

Facebook has a history of cloning features or apps from its competitors. Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, rolled out a product called Stories for Instagram and Facebook in 2016 and 2017, respectively, as a response to the rise of the app Snapchat. Stories was a near-exact copy of Snapchat’s Stories, which let people chronicle their days and can be set to disappear.

Facebook’s move dented Snapchat’s growth, according to documents that Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, filed for its initial public offering in 2017. Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s founder, has expressed frustration at Facebook’s willingness to copy its competitors.

In a memo to employees this week, executives at TikTok’s parent company criticized Facebook. Zhang Yiming, chief executive of ByteDance, said that he wished to expand as a global company but that TikTok faced an “intense international political environment, the collision and conflict of different cultures, and the plagiarism and smear of competitor Facebook.” Mr. Zhang noted the “complex and unimaginable difficulties” his company has faced over the past year, and that it has only grown worse under the “unfair” treatment from the Trump administration.

In a congressional hearing last month with other tech chief executives, Mr. Zuckerberg pointed to China and products like TikTok as innovation that the United States should be worried about, and that TikTok’s ascendancy was grounds to avoid unduly harsh regulation against American companies.

TikTok has long been in Facebook’s sights. As TikTok grew rapidly over the past few years in the United States and elsewhere, Facebook also rolled out Lasso, another clone of TikTok, in 2018. But Lasso did not catch on with audiences and Facebook shut it down in July.

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Misleading Hydroxychloroquine Video, Pushed by the Trumps, Spreads Online

In a video posted Monday online, a group of people calling themselves “America’s Frontline Doctors” and wearing white medical coats spoke against the backdrop of the Supreme Court in Washington, sharing misleading claims about the virus, including that hydroxychloroquine was an effective coronavirus treatment and that masks did not slow the spread of the virus.

The video did not appear to be anything special. But within six hours, President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. had tweeted versions of it, and the right-wing news site Breitbart had shared it. It went viral, shared largely through Facebook groups dedicated to anti-vaccination movements and conspiracy theories such as QAnon, racking up tens of millions of views. Multiple versions of the video were uploaded to YouTube, and links were shared through Twitter.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter worked feverishly to remove it, but by the time they had, the video had already become the latest example of misinformation about the virus that has spread widely.

That was because the video had been designed specifically to appeal to internet conspiracists and conservatives eager to see the economy reopen, with a setting and characters to lend authenticity. It showed that even as social media companies have sped up response time to remove dangerous virus misinformation within hours of its posting, people have continued to find new ways around the platforms’ safeguards.

“Misinformation about a deadly virus has become political fodder, which was then spread by many individuals who are trusted by their constituencies,” said Lisa Kaplan, founder of Alethea Group, a start-up that helps fight disinformation. “If just one person listened to anyone spreading these falsehoods and they subsequently took an action that caused others to catch, spread or even die from the virus — that is one person too many.”

One of the speakers in the video, who identified herself as Dr. Stella Immanuel, said, “You don’t need masks” to prevent spread of the coronavirus. She also claimed to be treating hundreds of patients infected with coronavirus with hydroxychloroquine, and asserted that it was an effective treatment. The claims have been repeatedly disputed by the medical establishment.

President Trump repeatedly promoted hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, in the early months of the crisis. In June, he said he was taking it himself. But that same month, the Food and Drug Administration revoked emergency authorization for the drug for Covid-19 patients and said it was “unlikely to be effective” and carried potential risks. The National Institutes of Health halted clinical trials of the drug.

In addition, studies have repeatedly shown that masks are effective in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The trajectory of Monday’s video mirrored that of “Plandemic,” a 26-minute slickly produced narration that spread widely in May and falsely claimed that a shadowy cabal of elites was using the virus and a potential vaccine to profit and gain power. In just over a week, “Plandemic” was viewed more than eight million times on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram before it was taken down.

But the video posted Monday had more views than “Plandemic” within hours of being posted online, even though it was removed much faster. At least one version of the video, viewed by The Times on Facebook, was watched over 16 million times.

Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter deleted several versions of the video on Monday night. All three companies said the video violated their policies on sharing misinformation related to the coronavirus.

On Tuesday morning, Twitter also took action against Donald Trump Jr. after he shared a link to the video. A spokesman for Twitter said the company had ordered Mr. Trump to delete the misleading tweet and said it would “limit some account functionality for 12 hours.” Twitter took a similar action against Kelli Ward, the Arizona Republican Party chairwoman, who also tweeted the video.

No action was taken against the president, who retweeted multiple clips of the same video to his 84.2 million followers Monday night. The original posts have since been removed.

When asked about the video on Tuesday, Mr. Trump continued to defend the doctors involved and the treatments they are backing.

“For some reason the internet wanted to take them down and took them off,” the president said. “I think they are very respected doctors. There was a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it, that she’s had tremendous success with it and they took her voice off. I don’t know why they took her off. Maybe they had a good reason, maybe they didn’t.”

Facebook and YouTube did not answer questions about multiple versions of the video that remained online on Tuesday afternoon. Twitter said it was “continuing to take action on new and existing tweets with the video.”

The members of the group behind Monday’s video say they are physicians treating patients infected with the coronavirus. But it was unclear where many of them practice medicine or how many patients they had actually seen. As early as May, anti-Obamacare conservative activists called the Tea Party Patriots Action reportedly worked with some of them to advocate loosening states’ restrictions on elective surgeries and nonemergency care. On July 15, the group registered a website called “America’s Frontline Doctors,” domain registration records show.

One of the first copies of the video that appeared on Monday was posted to the Tea Party Patriots’ YouTube channel, alongside other videos featuring the members of “America’s Frontline Doctors.”

The doctors have also been promoted by conservatives like Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, a nonprofit media organization.

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‘PizzaGate’ Conspiracy Theory Thrives Anew in the TikTok Era

WASHINGTON — Four minutes into a video that was posted on Instagram last month, Justin Bieber leaned into the camera and adjusted the front of his black knit beanie. For some of his 130 million followers, it was a signal.

In the video, someone had posted a comment asking Mr. Bieber to touch his hat if he had been a victim of a child-trafficking ring known as PizzaGate. Thousands of comments were flooding in, and there was no evidence that Mr. Bieber had seen that message. But the pop star’s innocuous gesture set off a flurry of online activity, which highlighted the resurgence of one of social media’s early conspiracy theories.

Viewers quickly uploaded hundreds of videos online analyzing Mr. Bieber’s action. The videos were translated into Spanish, Portuguese and other languages, amassing millions of views. Fans then left thousands of comments on Mr. Bieber’s social media posts asking him if he was safe. Within days, searches for “Justin and PizzaGate” soared on Google, and the hashtag #savebieber started trending.

Four years ago, ahead of the 2016 presidential election, the baseless notion that Hillary Clinton and Democratic elites were running a child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington pizzeria spread across the internet, illustrating how a crackpot idea with no truth to it could blossom on social media — and how dangerous it could be. In December 2016, a vigilante gunman showed up at the restaurant with an assault rifle and opened fire into a closet.

In the years afterward, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube managed to largely suppress PizzaGate. But now, just months before the next presidential election, the conspiracy theory is making a comeback on these platforms — and on new ones such as TikTok — underlining the limits of their efforts to stamp out dangerous speech online and how little has changed despite rising public frustration.


This time, PizzaGate is being fueled by a younger generation that is active on TikTok, which was in its infancy four years ago, as well as on other social media platforms. The conspiracy group QAnon is also promoting PizzaGate in private Facebook groups and creating easy-to-share memes on it.

Driven by these new elements, the theory has morphed. PizzaGate no longer focuses on Mrs. Clinton and has taken on less of a political bent. Its new targets and victims are a broader assortment of powerful businesspeople, politicians and celebrities, including Mr. Bieber, Bill Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey and Chrissy Teigen, who are lumped together as part of the global elite. For groups like QAnon, PizzaGate has become a convenient way to foment discontent.

The theory has also gone global. While it previously found traction mainly in the United States, videos and posts about it have racked up millions of views in Italy, Brazil and Turkey.

“PizzaGate never went away because it encompasses very potent forces,” including children’s safety and the power of elites, said Alice Marwick, a disinformation expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But now there is so much scaffolding from people who have researched it, it wasn’t hard for others to pick up from there.”

PizzaGate is reaching a level that nearly exceeds its 2016 fever pitch, according to an analysis by The New York Times. TikTok posts with the #PizzaGate hashtag have been viewed more than 82 million times in recent months. Google searches for PizzaGate have skyrocketed.

In the first week of June, comments, likes and shares of PizzaGate also spiked to more than 800,000 on Facebook and nearly 600,000 on Instagram, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned tool for analyzing social interactions. That compares with 512,000 interactions on Facebook and 93,000 on Instagram during the first week of December 2016. From the start of 2017 through January this year, the average number of weekly PizzaGate mentions, likes and shares on Facebook and Instagram was under 20,000, according to The Times’s analysis.

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The conspiracy has regained momentum even as its original targets — Mrs. Clinton, her top aides and a Washington pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong — are still dealing with the fallout.

Hateful comments have recently surged on the Facebook page and Yelp and Google review pages for Comet Ping Pong, where the child trafficking supposedly happened. The pizzeria’s owner, James Alefantis, said he had received fresh death threats that caused the Federal Bureau of Investigation to open a new investigation two months ago. The F.B.I. said Friday that it could not confirm the existence of an investigation.

“There are no real options for someone like me. I don’t have the names or numbers for people to call at Google or TikTok,” Mr. Alefantis said. “But I don’t want to be that person who lives their life in fear.”

Representatives for Mr. Bieber didn’t respond to requests for comment.

PizzaGate was born in 2016 in online forums like 4chan and Reddit, where right-wing users and supporters of Donald J. Trump pored over hacked emails from John D. Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s senior campaign adviser, looking for evidence of wrongdoing. Some emails referring to Mr. Podesta’s dinner plans mentioned pizza. A 4chan participant then connected the phrase “cheese pizza” to pedophiles, who on chat boards use the initials “c.p.” to denote child pornography.

Mr. Alefantis, who is friends with Mr. Podesta’s brother, Tony, was mentioned in several of the emails. That led internet users to connect his pizza parlor to their conspiracy.

The theory soon appeared in bogus publications like The Vigilant Citizen and The New Nationalist on Facebook and Instagram. On Twitter and YouTube, other users amplified the content.

Fact checkers debunked the idea. But weeks after the November 2016 election, Edgar M. Welch, 32, a North Carolina resident, drove six hours to Comet Ping Pong to free what he believed were enslaved children. He shot several rounds from a military-style assault rifle into a locked closet door of the pizzeria and eventually surrendered to the police. In 2017, he was sentenced to four years in prison.


Credit…Jim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency

Soon after, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook suspended the accounts of users who had pushed PizzaGate and took down hundreds of related posts.

To keep PizzaGate tamped down, the social media companies took other steps. Facebook made it impossible to search for hashtags such as #pizzagateisreal. On YouTube, searching for #pizzagate brought up a label that explained the term was part of a false conspiracy. Twitter also stopped #pizzagate from surfacing in its trending topics in the United States.

But starting in April, a confluence of factors renewed interest.

A documentary promoting PizzaGate, “Out of Shadows,” made by a former Hollywood stuntman, was released on YouTube that month and passed around the QAnon community. In May, the idea that Mr. Bieber was connected to the conspiracy surfaced. Teenagers on TikTok began promoting both, as reported earlier by The Daily Beast.

A week ago, Rachel McNear, 20, watched “Out of Shadows,” which has garnered 15 million views on YouTube. She then turned to Twitter, where she came across Mr. Bieber’s supposed association with PizzaGate. After reading more on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, she created a one-minute description of her research on the topic and posted it to TikTok on Monday.

“The mainstream media uses words like conspiracy theory and how it is debunked but I’m seeing the research,” Ms. McNear, of Timonium, Md., said in an interview.

Her video was taken down on Wednesday when TikTok removed the #PizzaGate hashtag and all content searchable with the term. A TikTok spokeswoman said such content violated its guidelines.

That same day, Facebook also expunged PizzaGate-related comments under Comet Ping Pong’s page after a call from The Times.

YouTube said it had long demoted PizzaGate-related videos and removes them from its recommendation engine, including “Out of Shadows.” Twitter said it constantly eliminates PizzaGate posts and had updated its child sexual-exploitation policy to prevent harm from the conspiracy. Facebook said it had created new policies, teams and tools to prevent falsehoods like PizzaGate from spreading.

Teenagers and young adults, many of whom are just forming political beliefs, are particularly susceptible to PizzaGate, said Travis View, a researcher and host of the “QAnon Anonymous” podcast, which examines conspiracy theories. They are drawn to celebrity photos on tabloid sites and Hollywood blogs to uncover PizzaGate’s supposed secret symbols and clues, he said. Even a triangle — which can signify a slice of pizza — can be taken as proof that a celebrity is part of a secret elite cabal.

“It all becomes a game, and people are drawn in because it feels participatory,” Mr. View said.


Credit…Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

For Tony Podesta, John Podesta’s brother, PizzaGate’s revival has opened up old wounds. He had dealt with trolling from conspiracy believers in 2016. Recently, he got a voice mail message from an anonymous caller saying, “Your pizza is ready.”

“It just doesn’t go away,” Mr. Podesta said. “They are always three steps ahead of the sheriff.”

Cecilia Kang reported from Washington, and Sheera Frenkel from Oakland, Calif.

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Now More Than Ever, Facebook Is a ‘Mark Zuckerberg Production’

SAN FRANCISCO — On Jan. 27, at a regularly scheduled Monday morning meeting with top executives at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg turned the agenda to the coronavirus. For weeks, he told his staff, he had been hearing from global health care experts that the virus had the makings of a pandemic, and now Facebook needed to prepare for a worst-case scenario — one in which the company’s ability to combat misinformation, scammers and conspiracy theorists would be tested as never before.

To start, Mr. Zuckerberg said, the company should take some of the tools it had developed to fight 2020 election garbage and attempt to retool them for the pathogen. He asked executives in charge of every department to develop plans for responding to a global outbreak by the end of the week.

The meeting, described by two people who attended it, helped vault Facebook ahead of other companies — and even some governments — in preparing for Covid-19. And it exemplified a change in how the 36-year-old is running the company he founded.

Since the day he coded the words “a Mark Zuckerberg production” onto every blue-and-white Facebook page, he has been the singular face of the social network. But to an extent not widely appreciated outside Silicon Valley, Mr. Zuckerberg has long been a kind of binary chief executive — extraordinarily involved in some aspects of the business, and virtually hands-off in areas that he finds less interesting.

The beginning of the end of Mr. Zuckerberg’s distanced leadership came on Nov. 8, 2016, with the election of Donald Trump. From that moment, a relentless series of crises — his casual dismissal of concerns over fake news as “a pretty crazy idea”; revelations that the platform had been used as a plaything for state-sponsored espionage; the Cambridge Analytica scandal — jolted Mr. Zuckerberg to tighten his grip.

Many of his consolidation tactics have been highly visible: He replaced the outside founders of Instagram and WhatsApp with loyalists, and he refashioned Facebook’s already-friendly board to be even more deferential, swapping out five of its nine members.

Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

With the attention of a quarter of the world’s population to sell to advertisers, Facebook is so colossal that org-chart moves have the effect of creating powerful new characters on the global policy stage. Mr. Zuckerberg has elevated lieutenants to win over hostile territories — the Republican operative Joel Kaplan in Washington, and the former deputy prime minister of Britain, Sir Nicholas Clegg, in the eurozone. And his more hands-on approach has caused, by the zero-sum logic of corporate clout, an effective sidelining of Sheryl Sandberg, his chief operating officer and the most high-profile woman in technology.

Now, the coronavirus has presented Mr. Zuckerberg with the opportunity to demonstrate that he has grown into his responsibilities as a leader — a 180-degree turn from the aloof days of 2016. It’s given him the chance to lead 50,000 employees through a crisis that, for once, is not of their own making. And seizing the moment might allow Mr. Zuckerberg to prove a thesis that he truly believes: That if one sees past its capacity for destruction, Facebook can be a force for good.

“Mark has taken an active role in the leadership of Facebook from its founding through to today,” Dave Arnold, a company spokesman, said in an emailed statement. “We’re fortunate to have such engaged leaders, including Mark, Sheryl and the entire leadership team. Facebook is a better company for it.”

The revamp has not gone without incident. In early May, Facebook struggled with how to handle a viral conspiracy video known as “Plandemic,” waffling as the footage spread to the screens of millions of users. Last week, reporters at the Detroit Metro Times showed that the company was blind to assassination-stoking activity on pages with 400,000 members.

Still, for Mr. Zuckerberg, the pandemic has the potential to be a more favorable backdrop than what 2020 would have ordinarily been dominated by — the presidential election and the difficulties of policing political speech.

In theory, the crisis plays to some of his strengths. Through his personal philanthropy, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, he has long been interested in curing and preventing disease. Covid is borderless, like Facebook itself, and will require a supranational response at a scale few other organizations are equipped to handle. Solutions, if they ever come, will be grounded in science and not emotion or politics.

Or the pandemic could take all that is dangerous about Facebook and amplify it. When the stakes are not merely a presidential election but global health, any role the company plays in elevating toxic information has the potential to make all its prior harms seem trivial. And if Mr. Zuckerberg is fully in control of his company in a way he wasn’t before — as acknowledged by interviews with more than two dozen people — the success or failure of its response will reside entirely with him.

“I think it’s going to piss off a lot of people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said of his new management style in an interview at a tech conference earlier this year. “But frankly, the old approach was pissing off a lot of people, too.”

In Silicon Valley, there is a certain kind of company founder whose title is C.E.O. but who presents himself as a “product guy.” A product-guy C.E.O. feels more at home developing what is for sale than actually running the company.

At Apple, Steve Jobs was a product guy, inventing the iPhone while leaving the supply chain to his C.O.O. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos is a product guy, obsessing about retail customers while others run the profitable web-hosting division. And at Facebook, for more than a decade, Mark Zuckerberg was a product guy’s product guy.

In practice, this meant Mr. Zuckerberg dove into important new products, giving direct orders to middle managers in charge of whatever feature he was obsessed with that week. It also meant he was comfortable delegating in areas that interested him less keenly — including the advertising machine that generated $70 billion in revenue last year. Even less compelling to Mr. Zuckerberg was the realm of Facebook policy around what kind of speech was and was not permitted. Those subjects fell into a specific category: Too important to ignore, but not exactly what a young billionaire wants to spend all of his time on.

Oversight of those areas went to his trusted inner circle, known as the M-Team. Short for “Mark Team,” its members knew they were never likely to succeed him as chief executive, but they could remain powerful and autonomous within their own departments. At the top was Ms. Sandberg, Mr. Zuckerberg’s second-in-command, whose portfolio spanned advertising, marketing, regulation, communications and beyond.

The 2016 election made it clear to Mr. Zuckerberg that the accommodation was no longer viable, as he and Ms. Sandberg were pilloried for being absent and distracted, if not willfully negligent. Afterward, Mr. Zuckerberg spent a chunk of 2017 on a state-by-state tour of America, but it wasn’t well received; mostly, his photogenic purple-state antics — sitting on tractors, attending church, bottle-feeding calves — just fed the rumor that he was making a run for president. Mr. Zuckerberg resolved to take control of the global superpower in which he already dominated the voting.

First, he made a show of owning up to its failures. “It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough,” he told reporters on a conference call in 2018, reflecting on the company’s string of missteps. “We didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well. We didn’t take a broad enough view of what our responsibility is, and that was a huge mistake.” He added: “It was my mistake.”

Not long after, in July 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg called a meeting with his top lieutenants. In the past, he had used the group’s semiannual gatherings to chart new courses for Facebook products, or discuss new technology he was interested in capitalizing on. This time, he told his executives that his focus was on himself. With Facebook constantly under attack from outsiders, Mr. Zuckerberg said, he needed to reinvent himself for “wartime.”

“Up until now, I’ve been a peacetime leader,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, according to three people who were present but not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly. “That’s going to change.” Mr. Zuckerberg said he would be making more decisions on his own, based on his instincts and vision for the company. Wartime leaders were quicker and more decisive, he said, and they didn’t let fear of angering others paralyze them. (Some details of the meeting were previously reported by The Wall Street Journal.)

Mr. Zuckerberg directed Facebook’s so-called “family of apps” — Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and Facebook proper — to work more closely together. Instagram had to start sending traffic back to the flagship product; WhatsApp had to better integrate with its sister social media services. Rather than execute Mr. Zuckerberg’s vision, the heads of Instagram, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, left the company in September 2018, after earlier departures by the disillusioned founders of WhatsApp. Together, they forfeited more than a billion dollars in compensation.


Credit…Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

Mr. Zuckerberg also began to participate more directly in meetings that had previously been Ms. Sandberg’s domain — from the nitty-gritty of taking down disinformation campaigns, to winding philosophical discussions on how Facebook ought to handle political ads. Employees couldn’t help but notice a shift in the balance of power in one of technology’s most lucrative partnerships.

Giving speeches and schmoozing policymakers were two of Ms. Sandberg’s specialties. Mr. Zuckerberg began to do more of that, too, starting with a lofty public address at Georgetown University’s hallowed Gaston Hall, where more than a century’s worth of dignitaries had orated from the same antique, carved-wood podium.

Mr. Zuckerberg continued the speaking tour with regulator-heavy engagements in Utah, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere. In Europe, where Facebook had an especially frosty relationship with government agencies, he tapped Mr. Clegg, who has grown into a new role as the company’s diplomat-in-chief.

Publicly, Ms. Sandberg has said her role at Facebook is larger than ever; she is directing a $100 million grant program for small businesses hurt by the pandemic. Many of the new hires, including Mr. Clegg, report to her, and she has said she has always wanted Mr. Zuckerberg to be more visible. “I think we don’t spend that much time worrying about our public image,” Ms. Sandberg said in an NBC podcast interview in February. “The issue is not what people think of me or Mark personally. What it is, is how are we doing as a company?”

But privately, Ms. Sandberg has worried that she was being pushed aside and that her role at Facebook has become less important, said two people who work within her department. Through a spokesperson, Ms. Sandberg declined to comment.

Facebook disputes that the relationship has changed. “There’s a clear structure. Mark is driving the product side of things, while Sheryl is running the business side of things,” David Fischer, Facebook’s chief revenue officer, said in an interview. “It doesn’t mean it’s all or nothing — it’s not zero-sum between them.”

Facebook devoted 2019 to a full-out lobbying assault on Washington, committing $16.7 million to influence policymakers. Only two other companies spent more. But even beyond cash, Facebook’s most powerful weapon was access to its C.E.O.

Mr. Kaplan — a well-connected veteran of the George W. Bush administration — began arranging for Mr. Zuckerberg to host dinners with influential conservatives, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and the Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Mr. Kaplan also nurtured a relationship between Mr. Zuckerberg and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law.

In September 2019, New York’s attorney general announced a multistate investigation into whether Facebook had broken antitrust laws. For Mr. Zuckerberg, it was the clearest indication yet that politics and government required his full attention — a potentially existential threat to his company that could no longer be delegated to others. A week later, he traveled to Washington to court members of both parties.

In a private room at Ris, an upscale restaurant next to the Ritz-Carlton, Mr. Zuckerberg dined with prominent Senate Democrats. The group included Mark Warner of Virginia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — both longtime critics of Facebook’s security and privacy practices — as well as officials newer to tech policy, such as Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Angus King, the independent from Maine.

Over grilled salmon, chicken potpie and roasted brussels sprouts, Mr. Zuckerberg gamely did the kind of basic D.C. give-and-take he’d long asked Ms. Sandberg to handle: He listened intently and made assurances about a range of Facebook issues, from foreign election interference to cryptocurrency.

“He’s an adroit performer,” Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview. “Almost certainly a result of professional advice, and maybe coaching and a lot of guidance from a heavy team of lobbyists here in Washington.” Mr. Warner added: “For a while, I think Facebook, along with a lot of tech companies in the Valley, thought that dealing with Washington was sort of beneath them. I think Mr. Zuckerberg has realized that it’s to his benefit to engage with us directly.”

The Democratic dinner was just a warm-up for the really important meeting, which came the next day: Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Kushner arranged for Mr. Zuckerberg to sit down with the president. The two men had never met. Ahead of the Sept. 19 session, Mr. Zuckerberg asked his Washington staff to brief him about Mr. Trump’s Facebook presence, so that he could casually rattle off some statistics in the Oval Office.


Credit…Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Wearing a dark blue suit and a burgundy tie, Mr. Zuckerberg sat between Mr. Kushner and Mr. Kaplan, facing Mr. Trump and his jumbo glass of Diet Coke. Mr. Zuckerberg quickly noted that the president had the highest level of engagement of any world leader on the social network. Mr. Trump — who had previously savaged Facebook on a range of issues — immediately adopted a new tone, describing the conversation in social media posts as “nice.”

A month later, the president invited Mr. Zuckerberg — along with Facebook board member and Trump supporter Peter Thiel — to a private White House dinner, which went undisclosed for weeks. Mr. Zuckerberg’s simple flattery seems to have paid off. Mr. Trump hasn’t publicly castigated the company since, and months later, he continues to tell audiences that he is “No. 1” on the world’s largest social network.

Within Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg’s more engaged style was rankling employees. The discontent boiled over later in October, after Mr. Zuckerberg publicly laid out how Facebook would regulate political speech on the platform. In the name of free speech, he had said, the social network would not police what politicians said in political ads — even if they lied. Facebook was not in the business of being an arbiter of truth, nor did it want to be, Mr. Zuckerberg said.

In response, more than 250 employees signed an internal memo arguing that free speech and paid speech were different and that misinformation was harmful to all. Facebook’s position on political advertising is “a threat to what FB stands for,” the employees wrote. “We strongly object to this policy as it stands.”

Days later, on Halloween, Mr. Zuckerberg led a regular weekly question-and-answer session with employees. Near the end, someone dressed in an enormous, inflatable Pikachu costume lumbered toward the microphone and pressed the C.E.O. on his policy, according to three people who were present.

Mr. Zuckerberg, now less worried than ever about trying to make everyone happy, reiterated his position. When versions of the same question kept popping up during the session, he held firm.

“This is not a democracy,” he said.

“Not a democracy” could also describe Facebook’s nine-person board of directors. Mr. Zuckerberg chairs the group, holds a majority of voting shares and controls its dynamics.

The board isn’t exactly a check on his power. Last year, Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, suggested creating an independent committee to scrutinize the company’s challenges and pose the sort of probing questions the board wasn’t used to being asked. The idea, previously reported by The Journal, was swiftly voted down by Mr. Zuckerberg and others.

Other board disagreements, specifically around political advertising and the spread of misinformation, always ended with Mr. Zuckerberg’s point of view winning out. In March, Mr. Chenault announced he would not stand for re-election; soon, so did another director, Jeffrey Zients, who had also challenged some of Mr. Zuckerberg’s positions.

To replace them, Mr. Zuckerberg picked Drew Houston, the chief executive of Dropbox, who was also a longtime friend and occasional Ping-Pong partner, and Peggy Alford, the former chief financial officer of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Three other appointees are set to join the board this year, including executives from McKinsey and Co. and Estée Lauder. The remaining three board members are a friendly bunch: Mr. Thiel and Marc Andreessen, venture capitalists who are among Facebook’s earliest and most loyal investors, and Ms. Sandberg.

With his board issues in the rearview, Mr. Zuckerberg has been able to devote more of his attention to the coronavirus. He started following the disease early, fielding reports from experts including Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control. Mr. Zuckerberg was advised not to trust preliminary reports out of China that the virus was contained, or the baseless assurances from Mr. Trump that it would not greatly affect the United States. On March 19, well ahead of many states’ stay-at-home orders, Mr. Zuckerberg broadcast a live video chat with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease official, on his personal Facebook page.


Since the pandemic began, video and audio calls on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have more than doubled. Group calls in some especially hard-hit countries, like Italy, soared by 1,000 percent. Messaging across Instagram and Facebook is up 50 percent across many of the busiest countries. Homebound in Palo Alto, Mr. Zuckerberg has been pushing his employees to build new products that people can use to connect with one another. The latest is a rival to Zoom, which he hopes will corner the video-calling market.

“When the world changes quickly, people have new needs, and that means that there are more new segments to build,” he said on a conference call with investors in April. “I have always believed that in times of economic downturn, the right thing to do is to keep investing in building the future.”

It remains to be seen what an increasingly visible Mr. Zuckerberg will do when challenged by the powerful. In March, in an interview with The New York Times, he said Facebook would not tolerate “misinformation that has imminent risk of danger.” He cited as an example “things like ‘You can cure this by drinking bleach.’ I mean, that’s just in a different class.”

Days later, during a White House news conference, Mr. Trump wondered aloud about an “injection inside” of disinfectant. As poison control centers were flooded with questions and the makers of Clorox and Lysol issued statements imploring Americans not to ingest their caustic cleaners, Facebook wilted, and across the platform, video of the comments went swiftly viral.

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Facebook’s Revenue Rises Again, but More Slowly Than Ever

SAN FRANCISCO — Even as Facebook has grappled with one corporate embarrassment after another, it has remained a business powerhouse.

But on Wednesday, the social network encountered the perils of being an aging corporation: It reported its slowest growth ever.

Facebook’s revenue in the last three months of 2019 rose 25 percent from a year earlier to $21 billion, while profits jumped 7 percent to $7.3 billion, the Silicon Valley giant said. While the performance was robust, the revenue growth was down from 28 percent in the previous quarter, turning 2019 into a year when the company did not report sales growth above 30 percent in any quarter.

At almost 16 years old, Facebook has matured into a large organization that is increasingly grappling with the law of large numbers and decelerating growth rates. Wall Street investors, who are accustomed to Facebook’s being a rapid-growth company, sent its stock down more than 7 percent in after-hours trading.

It was “the fourth straight quarter that the social media giant has delivered sub-30 percent growth,” said Jesse Cohen, an analyst at, a financial markets platform, though he added that the business was doing well.

Even as growth slowed, Facebook managed to wring more marketing dollars from the millions of advertisers who rely on its service, indicating that it has shrugged off some of the regulatory concerns and competitive pressure that have plagued it in recent years.

“We had a good quarter and a strong end to the year as our community and business continue to grow,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive. “We remain focused on building services that help people stay connected to those they care about.”

Profits surged even as Facebook increased its spending on security, research and development, and other areas of the business. Its expenses rose to more than $12 billion in the fourth quarter, up 34 percent from a year earlier. The company also took a charge for settling a class-action lawsuit concerning its biometric data collection, agreeing to pay $550 million to the plaintiffs.

Mr. Zuckerberg is set to focus this year on securing the platform in the run-up to the November election, aiming to avoid being caught off guard with disinformation and foreign interference as the company was in 2016. Election security teams have ballooned at Facebook, which is spending billions of dollars on the effort.

In a conference call with investors, Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook saw other business avenues ahead. He pointed to Facebook’s long-term bets on technology like augmented reality, peer-to-peer payments and other forms of commerce within its apps. On Dec. 25, he said, customers spent more than $5 million on content for the Oculus Quest, which is a virtual-reality headset.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said the company was in the “early, early days” of making money from of its most popular services, like Instagram.

Facebook plans to continue building tools for small businesses to operate on the social network, including a payments infrastructure for brands to handle purchases on the platform. Other payments initiatives include adding money transfer abilities to WhatsApp, the messaging service. Ms. Sandberg said the company was also slowly experimenting with different types of ads in Facebook Messenger.

The company also reported 2.89 billion regular users across its family of apps — including Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook’s core social network — up 9 percent from a year earlier.

Even as the company has weathered one controversy after another, Mr. Zuckerberg said he did not plan to shy away from addressing contentious issues. For example, he said this month that Facebook would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target ads to specific slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages, defying pressure from Congress.

“My goal for the next decade isn’t to be liked but to be understood,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

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This Is the Guy Who’s Taking Away the Instagram Likes

On a recent afternoon, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, assembled members of his staff to discuss the secret details of a critical project: the elimination of public “likes.” You’ll be able to see how many hearts your posts get, dear user, but not other people’s tallies. The effort is referred to internally as “Project Daisy” — as in “Does she love me? Or love me not?”

Likes are the social media currency undergirding an entire influencer economy, inspiring a million Kardashian wannabes and giving many of us regular people daily endorphin hits. But lately, Mr. Mosseri has been concerned about the unanticipated consequences of Instagram as approval arbiter.

He kept thinking about an episode of “Black Mirror,” the British dystopian anthology series, in which the characters rate everyone they interact with on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. (It doesn’t end well.)

Mr. Mosseri knows something about dealing with dystopian tech fallout. He came to Instagram in October 2018 after years overseeing the Facebook News Feed, an unwitting engine of fake news, inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation. He wants to avoid similar pitfalls at Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

But making likes private will be a major shift for Instagram’s more than 1 billion users, for whom daily assessment of one another’s popularity has become like breathing.

And so the company is carefully considering how this will happen, for months “dog-fooding” (internal Insta-talk for testing) different variations of the new format. A post’s achievement of “thousands of likes” or “tens of thousands of likes” might still be public. Users might be still be able to find others’ likes with a little more digging in the app. But the average teenager under pressure to be popular won’t need to suffer the indignity of only his mom liking his skateboarding post.

Mr. Mosseri sees Project Daisy, which the company intends to introduce early this year, as a signal to the world that he has learned from Facebook’s mistakes and is thinking about the larger, potentially corrosive impact of social media.

“We should have started to more proactively think about how Instagram and Facebook could be abused and mitigate those risks,” he said. “We’re playing catch-up.”

In the meeting, he asked his team: “How do we depressurize the app?” Brands would still need to count likes for their advertising, so what would that look like? Nobody wanted to break up the “BeyHive” (Beyoncé’s 138 million followers) or upset a major influencer like Selena Gomez (166 million), but does that mean the average popular teenager with 1,000 followers will see a similar display? How would users outside the United States respond? At one point, Mr. Mosseri stopped a designer and asked, “But how would that look in other languages?”

Then, he exhaled, stretched his arms behind his head and said, “I just don’t want to piss anyone off.”

By then, I had spent several afternoons with Mr. Mosseri, and his concern struck me as the best encapsulation of his fascinating, sometimes fraught tenure at Instagram. The man who is working to mostly eliminate likes really wants to be liked.

Mr. Mosseri is a close confidant of Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and he knows that his installment at Instagram was met with widespread skepticism among its staff, seen as evidence that the blue, squaresville platform had officially swallowed the chic rainbow-colored one.

For years, Instagram had tried to maintain at least the appearance of independence from Facebook, which acquired it for $1 billion in 2012. Then Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, clashed with Mr. Zuckerberg, and departed.

Dozens of employees also left. Two separately functioning teams of engineers and product managers were combined. Instagram had even changed its name to “Instagram from Facebook” — appalling many of the influencers who wouldn’t be caught dead on Facebook, which for them had become the realm of cantankerous uncles venting about politics and random high school friends posting reunion photos.

Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When Mr. Mosseri was introduced as Instagram’s new leader at a question-and-answer session with employees, someone asked, in effect, “Why are you making the head of Instagram someone who failed at Facebook’s News Feed?” according to a person who attended the meeting.

“It was a huge emotional event when Kevin and Mike left. So there was definitely skepticism about me stepping into the role,” Mr. Mosseri told me.

Concerns spread beyond Instagram’s corporate walls to its most obsessive users. Would the relationship with Facebook taint the app that had transformed the way we take pictures and turned an entire generation into selfie-taking machines?

This past fall, Mr. Zuckerberg, two days after he was grilled by Congress about Facebook’s handling of user data, political advertising, disinformation and child pornography, stopped by Instagram’s offices. Mr. Mosseri posted a selfie with his arm around him. “Mark stopped by Instagram!” Instagram users weighed in: “Instagram has lost its way” and “Instagram is dead” and “Make Instagram great again.”

But while Mr. Zuckerberg has been cast by critics as defensive and closed off to criticism and the news media, Mr. Mosseri, 36, projects the opposite. He’s affable and easygoing, exuding the laid-back intensity of a Bay Area tech executive who was born in the East Village. He is accessible to the news media, and unafraid of the occasional Twitter war with the acerbic tech columnist Kara Swisher (a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times). He posts an endless stream of relatable photos of his young sons (#DadLife). And he does regular “ask me anything” sessions.

This charm offensive, combined with Mr. Mosseri’s efforts to stop bullying, remove photos of self-harm and other safety and integrity measures that Facebook may have been late to, has won him respect. But it has not quieted the larger concerns about the mother ship.

“There’s more anxiety now just about, ‘What is our place within the broader company? How do we relate to Facebook? How do we relate to WhatsApp?’ It’s less anxiety around me,” Mr. Mosseri said. Then he added, “But I just want to be careful about blind spots here, because if there was a lot of anxiety about me, maybe they wouldn’t tell me.”

Instagram has revolutionized shopping, dealt a near-death blow to women’s magazines, taken celebrities from TV and movie screens to our fingertips and made Shih Tzus and personal trainers household names. (At least in some households.) To discuss the photo-sharing app’s future, Mr. Mosseri and I sat, among other places, in the sunny food court in its New York headquarters, in a building that once housed a Wanamaker’s department store and also includes the Facebook offices.

Designed to share everything, the company makes certain that visitors to its base of operations don’t share anything, asking most members of the news media who are granted access to sign nondisclosure agreements. (Mine was waived.) The white loft-like space is a sort of Willy Wonka chocolate factory of social media, with selfie-ready backdrops at every turn. There is an iridescent beehive-like installation, a complimentary gelato and biscotti bar, and a rotating wall of posts from @shop, Instagram’s latest effort to bring in small businesses.

Instagram’s worldwide staff totals more than 1,000, and even as Mr. Mosseri tried to convince them that he is not just a “Facebook guy,” he must also convince Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook that his decisions will benefit the parent company.

The way Facebook executives see it, Instagram would not have become so ubiquitous and beloved if it had not siphoned users and support from Facebook. Now, with Mr. Mosseri leading the charge, it is time for Instagram, the company’s fastest-growing asset, to give back.

“There is this misperception about the journey that Instagram has been on since Facebook acquired it,” said Justin Osofsky, a longtime senior Facebook executive who is now the chief operating officer of Instagram. “There was this narrative that it was a team of 13 people and the start-up journey led to an inevitable outcome for Instagram, when I believe Facebook played an incredibly important role in its growth.”

In an email, Mr. Zuckerberg said Instagram’s founders had “created something special, and the team has taken that and helped build it into something that people around the world love.” But, he added, “we still have a lot to do to make the experience even better and make sure we’re living up to what people expect from us.”

This delicate balance — keeping both Facebook and Instagram happy and facing animosity in both camps — reminded Mr. Mosseri of his father, an Israeli-American psychotherapist who speaks Hebrew with an American accent and English with an Israeli accent.

“I feel like I speak two languages and neither is perfect,” Mr. Mosseri said. “It’s like, either place you go you get, ‘Where are you from?’”

Mr. Mosseri’s story began like those of many tech executives: in college. He was a freshman at N.Y.U. when he started designing websites, mostly to help pay the rent on the windowless room in the one-bathroom apartment that he shared with five roommates. He started a small web-design firm with a partner, Sidney Blank, who described it as “two guys with a couple employees futzing around.”

Mr. Mosseri’s firm got a couple of commissions from Brown University and the Architectural League of New York (his mother is an architect), including one to create an interactive rendering of what a redesigned World Trade Center might look like. In 2005, he opened a West Coast office, following a couple of friends to pursue start-up riches in San Francisco.

There, he created Boombox, a music-sharing app. Before he received a cease-and-desist order from the Recording Industry Association of America, the app caught Facebook’s eye. Mr. Mosseri’s wife, Monica, was working at Facebook in operations; Mr. Mosseri had applied there several times but never got an interview. Now, as the company eyed music sharing, he had an in.

In 2008, Mr. Mosseri joined Facebook’s design team, committing so completely that he’d sometimes crash on a sofa in Silicon Valley with other early Facebook executives rather than go home. Thinking like a designer but coding like an engineer, he embodied the work-hard-play-hard ethos that Facebook looked for in its employees at the time, said Soleio Cuervo, a former product designer at Facebook.

“Facebook has this stigma of being traditional Silicon Valley nerds,” Mr. Cuervo said. “But I actually think it’s a very social culture. Adam played on our co-ed soccer team.”

Like many other early Facebook employees, Mr. Mosseri got close to Mr. Zuckerberg. They occupy similar social circles, they have children who are about the same age and they occasionally go on morning runs together. Mr. Zuckerberg eventually entrusted Mr. Mosseri with overseeing the News Feed, the stream of links, photos and miscellaneous rants that Facebook’s more than two billion users post in more than 100 languages.

Revelations that Russian trolls had meddled to help elect President Trump in 2016, and that the News Feed had been used to spread disinformation during the campaign, set off a series of congressional investigations into Facebook’s practices. Social media, which had been designed to bring us together, had become the ultimate tool for tearing us apart.

Publicly, the blowback landed on Mr. Zuckerberg, but internally it was Mr. Mosseri who had to provide many of the answers. He spent the months after the 2016 election fielding questions about how this happened and how he could make sure it would not happen again.

“I was going around the world, talking to a lot of very harsh critics of us, trying to sift through all the noise and find the signal and figure out how to address these issues and help steer the ship,” Mr. Mosseri said.

Even as criticism of Facebook reverberated and younger users in the United States, in particular, abandoned it, Instagram maintained its image as a safe space to share photos of first birthdays and avocado toast.

Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012, when it had 30 million users, and treated it largely as a side project, albeit a profitable one. But Instagram grew faster than anyone had expected. It shrewdly mimicked its rival, Snapchat, introducing the widely popular video-sharing Stories feature, whose private tallying of “watches” has informed Project Daisy.

Users who may have felt their privacy was compromised on Facebook used Instagram to exchange direct messages and share personal moments. In 2018, Instagram’s net advertising revenue in the United States reached nearly $6 billion, a 70 percent increase from the previous year, according to eMarketer, a social media research company.

No longer the quirky stepchild with bunny-ear filters, Instagram has become the future of Facebook in the United States, according to industry analysts who estimate that it is Facebook’s most lucrative asset and arguably one of the best acquisitions in tech history.

“There is this role reversal in Instagram’s metamorphosis from this tiny thing on the side to being the core platform,” said Venky Ganesan, a managing director at Menlo Ventures, a venture capital firm. “The actual Facebook that we know and love — or know and no longer love — is becoming a relic of the past.”

Mr. Zuckerberg began looking at the overall picture of Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook, or what he calls the “family of apps.” Facebook could seem like a jealous sibling: removing the Instagram logo from its bookmarks menu, for instance, and cutting the traffic that flowed from its platform to Instagram. Instagram users also had an option to cross-post Stories on Facebook, like sharing graham crackers.

Months before Instagram’s founders left, Jan Koum resigned from WhatsApp, the messaging app he co-founded, and from Facebook’s board, amid debates about the amount of user data Facebook had collected from its users.

Mr. Zuckerberg installed Mr. Mosseri as head of product at Instagram, a move that further convinced its founders, Mr. Systrom and Mr. Krieger, that the app they created was increasingly under Mr. Zuckerberg’s control. Not long after, they announced they would depart, leaving tumult in their wake. “No one ever leaves a job because everything’s awesome,” Mr. Systrom told Recode.

Mr. Mosseri had to assemble an almost entirely new leadership team at Instagram, installing several Facebook executives in senior roles. He encouraged previously disparate teams that worked on well-being and integrity to collaborate more closely, overseeing, among other things, efforts to make sure harmful posts were promptly taken down.

“We were doing too much on our own and not enough leveraging of all the work that comes from the much larger team at Facebook,” Mr. Mosseri said.

Though Instagram was largely insulated from criticism after the 2016 election, two reports, prepared by independent groups and released last year by the Senate Intelligence Committee, found that Instagram had since become a favored tool of Russian internet trolls who sought to sow distrust in the American political system. Their tactics included the creation of fake accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers that targeted African-Americans, anti-immigration activists and gun-rights supporters, among others. The app could prove ripe for further interference ahead of the 2020 election.

“From my experiences on the Facebook side, I could try to mitigate some of those risks,” Mr. Mosseri said. Always quick to break the tension, he jokes about the heated conversations he has had with his liberal East Coast relatives about Facebook’s role in Mr. Trump’s victory, but it’s also cause for introspection. “I try to step back and look at things as effectively as we can and be honest about where we made mistakes,” he said. “I’ve asked myself so many times, if I could go back to 2015 or 2016 and give myself a bunch of advice, what advice would I give myself?”

He also echoed the wider thinking within Facebook that Mr. Trump had simply used the platform more effectively than the competition. “Trump used Facebook really well as an advertiser, so I am sure that helped,” he said.

Mr. Mosseri likes to say that “technology isn’t good or bad, it just is.” But how could he be so sure? No one really knows what the long-term sociological impact of Instagram will be; it’s too new. “Social media, I think, often serves as a great amplifier of good and bad,” Mr. Mosseri said.

In other words, social media is sometimes a cesspool because humanity is sometimes a cesspool. And yet it is Mr. Mosseri’s job to make sure the slime doesn’t overtake the subway (to invoke “Ghostbusters”). Instagram is still widely beloved in the United States, but users in Britain largely turned on the platform following reports that graphic images of self-harm on its app might have influenced a 14-year-old girl to commit suicide.

Mr. Mosseri quickly banned such images and ordered the development of additional tools to help users to avoid bullying. As I was writing this article, Mr. Mosseri emailed to say that he wanted to prioritize “well-being focus areas” for Instagram’s teenage users, “including problematic use and loneliness.”

Indeed, the most obvious dark forces — pornography, self-harm, disinformation — seem almost simple compared to the largely unknown long-term impact of a platform that has turned every vacation, every dinner party, every parental milestone into an online performance. Instagram has so incentivized the distortion of reality that it lured moneyed millennials to the doomed Fyre music festival on an impoverished island; a couple fell to their deaths while trying to snap the perfect cliff-side selfie, and a woman vented that her 6-year-old son wasn’t as popular as his siblings because images of him received fewer likes.

Eva Chen, the director of fashion at Instagram, stressed that the app is an accessory for the majority of its users and not the main event. “So much of the advice I give to young people is not even within the confines or constructs of Instagram,” she said. “Living a life to someone else’s standards of what cool is is not a good way to live.”

But what happens when a technology puts the idea of cool in the palm of our hand, tantalizing and taunting us at all hours?

“There are plenty of well-documented reasons to distrust Instagram — the platform where one is never not branding, never not making Facebook money, never not giving Facebook one’s data,” Tavi Gevinson, who became one of the earliest influencers after starting a popular style blog when she was 12, wrote in New York magazine. “But most unnerving are the ways in which it has led me to distrust myself.”

Mr. Osofsky, Instagram’s chief operating officer, pointed to Project Daisy as one example of how seriously the company’s leaders take the app’s unintended consequences. “We are willing to question and analyze some of the most core aspects of the service when you think about the next decade of Instagram,” he said.

Mr. Mosseri got more philosophical.

“Can I get a little nerdy on you for a second?” I said yes, without reminding him that we’d already talked extensively about “variants” and “ad hoc qualitative research.”

“With a new medium, it starts with euphoria and then goes to hysteria and then hopefully you get some kind of balance,” he said. “It happened with the radio. This happened with TV. There was a huge amount of skepticism about reading Plato because he was writing and no one could argue versus yelling into a public square.”

That means that if Instagram were a Model T Ford, Mr. Mosseri is overseeing a period when he will have to start installing seatbelts and airbags and other safety features.

“It’s very natural for there to be strong skepticism,” he said. “But I do think we create a lot of good in the world.”


NYT > Business

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On Instagram, Houseplant Sellers Turn Likes Into Green Thumbs

Ever heard of a plant coach?

They don’t wear whistles or train plants to grow. No, they instruct people on which plants will survive in their homes, teaching them how to take care of their chlorophyllous children and the way to style the greenery to their liking.

The playing field for these coaches is often Instagram, which has in many ways become a modern iteration of a department store for young people. Businesses tailored to the platform sell clothes, shoes, makeup, wigs, kitchenware — the list goes on.

And houseplants, popular among millennials, have increasingly taken root on the app. As begonias, monsteras and cactuses join microbladed brows, marble countertops and snow white apartment walls as hallmarks of the Instagram aesthetic, young entrepreneurs — or plantrepreneurs, as some call themselves — are building businesses selling plants and teaching others how to keep them alive.

In 2018, 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for 25 percent of total lawn and garden spending in the United States, up from 23 percent in 2017, according to the National Gardening Association. Last year, millennials spent over $13 billion on gardening, the association said. Many nurseries have waiting lists for their most sought-after species.

“Rather than just trying to sell, sell, sell, we create something that is not just about selling plants but is also about education,” said Puneet Sabharwal, 38, who along with Bryana Sortino, 36, runs Horti, a company that offers plants through a subscription service.

Horti, which began in 2017 in a Brooklyn apartment, initially mails customers simple, hardy seedlings. Once their plant-care confidence builds, they are sent species that require higher maintenance.

Mr. Sabharwal said that before he and Ms. Sortino formed the company, he had noticed that his friends were mostly making their plant decisions in shops, based on the plant’s appearance as opposed to their ability to sustain it.

Owning a plant, in other words, was more about the way it fit into an Instagram square and less about keeping a living thing alive.

“What ends up happening is that you buy plants that will end up dying, and it kills a lot of owners’ confidence in plants,” Mr. Sabharwal said. “If you get plants that will survive, it will give you this sense that you are doing a great job.”

As for the plants that don’t thrive past the initial #plantmom Instagram post, they may even represent a small environmental liability, according to Andrea Ruiz-Hays, the founder of Eco Strategies Group, a consulting firm that works with companies to help them develop more sustainable practices.

“You’re sending additional greens to the landfill,” Ms. Ruiz-Hays said. “These plants break down and they contribute to carbon emissions when it wasn’t needed from the beginning.”

Horti, which says it wants to help customers keep their plants out of landfills, is using Instagram to help as much greenery as it can survive.

The company’s Instagram account, which has over 35,000 followers, has become the best way to drive sales, Mr. Sabharwal said.

“I am running the Instagram account more as a gallery, including what is happening in the larger landscape of indoor planting,” he said.

According to Mr. Sabharwal, nearly all of the company’s plants are imported from Florida to nurseries on Long Island that distribute them. “Time is money for most of these growers,” he said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nurseries are also eager to profit from the rise of plant sales on social media.

Hirt’s Gardens, a plant seller in Ohio that has been in business for 105 years, has experienced a 30 percent increase in profits over the last decade because of social media, said Matt Hirt, one of the company’s owners.

Mr. Hirt, 42, said that the strong sales were in spite of buyers who take advantage of propagation, the ability of certain plant species to spawn new plants from cuttings. (He can tell when someone buys a plant to “love it,” he said, as opposed to buying it simply with a plan to propagate it and sell it forward.)

“It doesn’t take away from my profit,” Mr. Hirt said, adding that his internet sales for 2019 were around $1.5 million — nearly double the previous year’s.

Blane Turiczek, 24, the company’s social media manager, said that customers’ habit of tagging the nursery on Instagram helped keep plants flying out of the greenhouse.

“Some of the really cool ones right now have a waiting list,” she said.

A current Instagram favorite, with a six-person waiting list, is the “Pink Princess” philodendron, a houseplant that sells for $50 in a six-inch pot and has pink and dark green leaves. Some stems unfurl and reveal entirely pink leaves. The nursery usually gets two a week.

A spokeswoman for Instagram said that the company did not have any information about an uptick in plant sales on the platform, but added that “selling plants is popular on Facebook Marketplace.” (Instagram is owned by Facebook.)

Buying plants on social media carries risk, of course.

One danger is plant fraud: You might buy a rare plant as a seedling, with the promise that its coveted leaves will eventually show themselves, but it never delivers.

“It happens,” said Nick Cutsumpas, a plant coach who goes by @farmernicknyc on Instagram, where he has more than 23,000 followers and finds 90 percent of his clientele.

“You might be told that this cutting came from a variegated plant, which are rarer and susceptible to disease,” Mr. Cutsumpas, 27, said. “You might get a plant that is perfectly green and then two years in, you don’t see anything.”

And it may remain a mystery: “You won’t know if you didn’t give it the right environment or if it’s plant fraud,” he said.

But for most people, Mr. Cutsumpas said, keeping a plant alive that they bought online should be relatively straightforward, as long as they give it the proper attention.

“No one is born with a black thumb,” he said.

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Facebook Says It Won’t Back Down From Allowing Lies in Political Ads

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook said on Thursday that it would not make any major changes to its political advertising policies, which allow lies in ads, despite pressure from lawmakers who say the company is abdicating responsibility for what appears on its platform.

The decision, which company executives had telegraphed in recent months, is likely to harden criticism of Facebook’s political ad practices heading into this year’s presidential election.

The company also said it would not end so-called microtargeting for political ads, which lets campaigns home in on a sliver of Facebook’s users — a tactic that critics say is ideal for spreading divisive or misleading information.

Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms and conservatives who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.

The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.

By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.

In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

Other social media companies have decided otherwise, and some had hoped Facebook would quietly follow their lead. In late October, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, banned all political advertising from his network, citing the challenges that novel digital systems present to civic discourse. Google quickly followed suit with limits on political ads across some of its properties, though narrower in scope.

Facebook’s hands-off ad policy has already allowed for misleading advertisements. In October, a Facebook ad from the Trump campaign made false accusations about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden. The ad quickly went viral and was viewed by millions. After the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

In an attempt to provoke Facebook, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign ran an ad falsely claiming that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was backing the re-election of Mr. Trump. Facebook did not take the ad down.

Criticism seemed to stiffen Mr. Zuckerberg’s resolve. Company officials said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s president, had ultimately made the decision to stand firm.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University in October, Mr. Zuckerberg said he believed in the power of unfettered speech, including in paid advertising, and did not want to be in the position to police what politicians could and could not say to constituents. Facebook’s users, he said, should be allowed to make those decisions for themselves.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.

Facebook officials have repeatedly said significant changes to its rules for political or issue ads could harm the ability of smaller, less well-funded organizations to raise money and organize across the network.

Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Mr. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.

Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.

There was considerable debate inside Facebook about whether it should change. Late last year, hundreds of employees supported an internal memo that called on Mr. Zuckerberg to limit the abilities of Facebook’s political advertising products.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Mr. Trump.

But Mr. Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Mr. Trump’s re-election, it was the right decision. Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Mr. Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users.

For now, Facebook appears willing to risk disinformation in support of unfettered speech.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Mr. Leathern said. “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this the better.”