The chief operating officer of Facebook has admitted the social network has more work to do to ensure the safety of those using the platform.

Speaking exclusively to RTÉ News during a visit to Dublin, Sheryl Sandberg said the company was doing everything it could to keep people safe online and the issue was a big priority for it.

"Safety has always been important and continues to be important. It is personal for me," she said.

"I am a mother of two young children. My mother-in-law runs the National Anti-Bullying Centre in the United States. And so doing everything we can at Facebook to keep safe online is a huge priority."

But after a number of years of criticism of Facebook's approach to safety, Ms Sandberg acknowledged the job of fixing it is not complete.

"You can always do more and we are doing more, that's why we are making the investment locally and working with people around the world," she said.

"What matters is that we build the tools that keep kids safe, that we work with teachers and students and online programmes.

"We are now investing €1m with the Anti-Bullying Centre here in DCU. I just had a chance to meet with these amazing teachers, and people working to do all we can to keep our kids safe online is really important."

Ms Sandberg also admitted today that the company has to do more to earn the trust of users.

Many users have become suspicious of its data protection practices in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica affair and high profile data breaches.


Read more
Facebook to create 1,000 jobs in Ireland this year

 


"It is your information," Ms Sandberg said.

"And when you share it on Facebook you are choosing to share it with your friends on Facebook and us. That means you have to understand how it is being used and control it. And we're working hard on that."

She added that the company had rolled out a number of tools to assist with this process, including Privacy Check-Up.

"I think GDPR has been really important in helping people understand how their information is used and we rolled out those same settings around the world. And I think we are going to continue to work hard to make sure people understand how their information is used and the control they have."

Ms Sandberg also said it was now clear that prior to 2016 the company did not understand that the social network could be used for activities aimed at undermining democracy, including electoral interference and spreading fake news.

"Nothing is more important than protecting our elections and preventing interference and if you think back to 2016 what state actors did, and we were focused on preventing, was they hacked and phished, they tried to take information," she said.

"What we weren't as focused on and didn't understand was a new and more insidious threat, which is write fake stuff to try to sow dissent.

"So we are definitely in a much better place than we were then, we know what this is, we're working with governments around the world, and we are finding coordinated inauthentic behaviour as frequently and as recently as last week and pulling it down."

However, she added that work is ongoing because adversaries to democracy have existed for a long time and are smart and well funded.

As a result, she said, Facebook would have to work to stay ahead by not just preventing the threat but also looking for the new ones.

In relation to the company's decision to hire another 1,000 people here, Ms Sandberg said Ireland is one of the best places in the world to hire talent.

She said this is because of the education system is "so strong", and also because people come here to work from all around Europe.

Ms Sandberg also said she thinks the internet is in a phase of reflection and warning, where new rules are going to be written and boundaries are going to be set.

She said such a stage has been seen during the development of all sorts of new technologies over the years, from the printing press to the railroads to TV to the telephone.

"If you look at the history of technology ... what you see is these early phases where everyone is excited about what changes and then some real phases of alarm," she said.

"And now I think we are in that follow up period of reflection and warning where new rules are going to be written and boundaries are going to be set. So we know that it is government's responsibility to set those rules and it is a priority for us for 2019 to work with governments around the world.

"But we are also not waiting for regulation. There are a number of steps we are taking to keep people safe and be more transparent on our own, and by working with third parties and we are going to continue to do all that work."