Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg's vision for a new Facebook that focuses on private conversations could end up deepening the social network's misinformation problems.

Driving the news: Zuckerberg posted Wednesday outlining a new emphasis on privacy at Facebook, foreseeing a future that de-emphasizes the News Feed's "digital public square" in favor of private messaging's "digital living room."

The big picture: Zuckerberg believes that encrypted private chats and group communications may one day be a bigger feature on Facebook platforms (including WhatsApp and Instagram) than public-facing social media posts.

Here's the upside, per Zuckerberg: Public social media no longer invites users to "be themselves" without fear or reprisal (deserved or otherwise). Privacy protected by encryption, easier-to-understand settings and self-deleting messages could help reverse that.

The catch: Many of the worst aspects of Facebook's platforms thrive in private spaces that are either invisible or not readily visible to moderators. Emphasizing private group chats could multiply these problems.

  • Mobs in India enraged by WhatsApp messages killed dozens of people falsely believed to be kidnappers in 2018.
  • In the U.S., hyperpartisan fringe groups congregate in Facebook's private areas. "Facebook groups are where unsavory narratives ferment and are spread, often with directions about how to achieve maximum impact," noted Nina Jankowicz, global fellow at the Wilson Center, via email.
  • These can become echo chambers of false content and propaganda without much oversight from Facebook.

Facebook has worked to mitigate some of these problems — including limiting the number of people WhatsApp users can forward messages to, reducing the spread of false stories.

To be sure: No one blames the telephone for the content of phone calls. Private group chats are a difficult gray area between public, many-to-many communications online where most people expect moderation and direct person-to-person communications where they generally do not.

The bottom line: If Zuckerberg is correct about the future of private group communications, this won't be only Facebook's problem. Any communications platform that seeks privacy through encryption will be just as entangled in it.

Go deeper: Facebook's pivot is bigger than privacy

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 32,471,119 — Total deaths: 987,593 — Total recoveries: 22,374,557Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 7,032,524 — Total deaths: 203,657 — Total recoveries: 2,727,335 — Total tests: 99,483,712Map.
  3. States: "We’re not closing anything going forward": Florida fully lifts COVID restaurant restrictions — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tests positive for coronavirus.
  4. Health: Young people accounted for 20% of cases this summer.
  5. Business: Coronavirus has made airports happier places The expiration of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance looms.
  6. Education: Where bringing students back to school is most risky.
Mike Allen, author of AM
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden pushes unity message in new TV wave

A fresh Joe Biden ad, "New Start," signals an effort by his campaign to make unity a central theme, underscoring a new passage in his stump speech that says he won't be a president just for Democrats but for all Americans.

What he's saying: The ad — which began Friday night, and is a follow-up to "Fresh Start" — draws from a Biden speech earlier in the week in Manitowoc, Wisconsin:

Trump prepares to announce Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court replacement

Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Photo: Matt Cashore/Notre Dame University via Reuters

President Trump is preparing to nominate federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana, a favorite of both the social conservative base and Republican elected officials, to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Republican sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Barrett would push the already conservative court further and harder to the right, for decades to come, on the most important issues in American politics — from abortion to the limits of presidential power. If confirmed, she would give conservatives a 6-3 majority on the high court.

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