By Shelby Linelander , CNN Written by
Facebook’s operating environment “is not designed to prevent harm,” Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, said in a rare public acknowledgement that the social network company has a responsibility to protect its users.
“With more than 2 billion people using Facebook every month, our ability to prevent all forms of abuse is not perfect,” Zuckerberg said at a town hall-style event in India Thursday. “But we strive to do better and to protect people’s data as best we can.”
The CEO’s comments came the same day that Facebook confirmed it had removed 338 pages and accounts tied to the Kremlin-affiliated Internet Research Agency (IRA), after announcing the accounts last week.
The pages, which ranged from the mainstream to the fringe and focused on topics such as immigration, religion and US-Russia relations, “may have been used to spread misinformation and divisive messages around the world,” the company said in a blog post.
Facebook has also removed more than two dozen accounts linked to the IRA which spread “fake news” in the US, the company’s statement said.
Zuckerberg’s initial statement didn’t specifically address specific groups that were targeted. But as criticism grew about the company’s oversight of the Russian trolls, the CEO took to Twitter to acknowledge the long term stakes of the company’s actions.
“This is an issue I believe we all need to take seriously,” he said. “We are in the early days of understanding the impact of these tools, but if we don’t act now, the negative consequences will be felt by all of us.”
Thursday’s event was on Zuckerberg’s schedule to update the audience about the company’s community efforts in India. He was also there to unveil a social impact initiative focused on the region.
But he also used the platform to address criticism that Facebook is only caring about its bottom line and has not invested enough resources to protect its users from potential harm.
“At a personal level, I am also not willing to have a company that doesn’t take that responsibility,” he said.
But Zuckerberg also took the opportunity to make a few jokes about how the company could make its opponents think it wasn’t quite up to speed on Russian manipulation.
“Before I go into my Facebook event, I wanted to take a moment to address an issue that has been more in the news recently,” he said at the beginning of the town hall. “Lots of people asked me if I knew all the names of the IRA accounts. Well, they’re not Russian. The IRA is a fictional country.”
Zuckerberg was met with polite applause from the audience at the event, where he fielded questions from Indian citizens in English, Chinese and Hindi.
He also focused on safety in India. Zuckerberg said the company is taking steps to bring more safety to the country, including increasing the number of data centers in India and hiring more researchers there.
The audience also peppered the CEO with questions about ways the company is working to improve the security of its 1.4 billion monthly users.
Zuckerberg said Facebook will soon start alerting its users whenever people are more than six months late on a profile change. The announcement has been welcomed by privacy advocates, who praised the social network for responding quickly to the discovery of the IRA activity.