Facebook's Carolyn Everson talks VR, disinformation—and a distributed workforce: Ad Age Remotely
Welcome to Ad Age Remotely, a video digest of today's news.
Today we speak with Facebook’s Carolyn Everson, VP of global marketing solutions, about working with nervous brands, demanding health officials—and even disinformation from Brazil’s president.
Facebook has some gadgets in its arsenal that not all companies have for handling its isolated workforce, including Portal, a video-messaging screen, and Oculus VR devices. Admittedly, Facebook’s team is working more from the simple Portal screen, which connects to another product the company has been pushing, Workplace, its Slack-like office software.
Everson talks with Ad Age about how those niche hardware products could be a lifeline for the company. The VR technology is not quite there yet, where people should expect to transport themselves to Matrix-style offices any time soon. “So we’ve had some virtual meetings via Oculus at Facebook,” Everson says from her home office in New Jersey where she, like the rest of Facebook’s 45,000 global employees, works remotely. “You can see the promise of the technology, right, there’s still a lot that needs to be worked out.”
With much of the world under strict guidance to stay away, Facebook is dealing with the same issues all businesses face: How to keep operating while workers are quarantined and how to keep the lights on. In Facebook’s case, that’s how to keep the internet on as its systems require excess capacity to handle the surge in people using its services for messaging and livestreaming.
Facebook also has some challenges that are unique to a technology behemoth, with 2.9 billion users across its apps, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.
For instance, it’s penalizing powerful users like Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who became one of the most high-profile people to ever get a slap on the wrist with the removal of one of his posts. This week, Bolsonaro was caught in one of Facebook’s top priorities at the moment, policing misinformation about coronavirus, a mission for which it has received mixed reviews so far.
Everson could not say how Facebook would react in every situation, say, if an important U.S. leader shared bad information, but, she says, “when there is any information on our platform that could cause harm to people, the decision is quite simple: It needs to come down.”
Facebook also is finding itself on the frontlines of the pandemic as world leaders and health officials turn to tech companies to get the word out about fast-shaping public policy. Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat and Pinterest have all been recruited to share guidelines from the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There have been fears, however, that the reliance on tech companies will lead to looser privacy norms. What if a government wants to use social networks to track the health of citizens? Everson says that Facebook has talked with many countries and interested parties about the role the social network could play in fighting the pandemic, and has fielded all manners of suggestions.
“There are ideas every day, all day long, from every partner that we talk to about things they think the platform can do,” Everson says. “And we have been very sensitive to ensure that anything that we do is in line with our mission, in line with, of course, our privacy policies and how we want to show up for consumers.”
One of Facebook's newest launches came this week with what it calls a “community help platform.” Facebook hired Droga5 to help promote the new hub, which is meant to connect people in need. Everson describes the initiative: “Think about it like a marketplace for people to help each other,” she says.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated how Facebook uses Oculus virtual reality to communicate during the pandemic. Everson has used the device for meetings, but not since Facebook’s remote working was instituted.