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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 21 mins ago - World

Russia announces end to massive troop buildup near Ukraine

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) with President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia's defense minister said Thursday that massive military exercises near the border with Ukraine had been completed, and that he had ordered troops to return to their permanent bases by May 1, according to state media.

Why it matters: Tens of thousands of troops and heavy military equipment had been moved to the border of eastern Ukraine and the annexed territory of Crimea over the last month, sparking fears of a potential Russian invasion.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
41 mins ago - Economy & Business

Private equity's other tax fight

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Private equity is carefully watching the D.C. debate on corporate taxes, in which Senate Democrats seem to be settling on a 25% rate.

Zoom in: Marginal rates obviously matter, but for PE it's just an appetizer before the weedier work begins on issues like corporate interest deductibility.

Making sense of Biden's big emissions promise

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden's new U.S. emissions-cutting target is a sign of White House ambition and a number that distills the tough political and policy maneuvers needed to realize those aims.

Driving the news: This morning the White House unveiled a nonbinding goal under the Paris Agreement that calls for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50%-52% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels.

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