Facebook shelved a feature intended to promote civil political discourse

By Andrew Liptak

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook had begun working on a feature that would encourage users of opposing political beliefs to interact in a more positive way. But the project — known as “Common Ground” — was reportedly halted after Facebook’s global head of policy raised concerns that it could lead to accusations that the site was biased against conservatives.

Sources told the WSJ that the Common Ground project would have brought together several different projects “meant to minimize toxic content and encourage more civil discussion,” which included changes to how the News Feed was ranked, and to de-emphasize “hateful” comments. Kaplan — along with other executives — worried that conservative users would be disproportionately impacted by the changes, and noted that the term “‘common ground’ was patronizing.” The project was reportedly shelved over concerns that it would impact user engagement, although Facebook told the WSJ that it was continuing to study polarization on the site.

This profile paints a picture of Kaplan as a sort of conservative damage-control, and that his role has expanded since the 2016 Presidential Election to push off against claims of bias. Accordingly, the WSJ notes that Kaplan’s “remit has expanded considerably in the last two years,” and that he “now has a say in whether certain news-feed products get launched.”

Kaplan was recently the source of some tension within Facebook when he sat in on the Congressional hearings for then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which many within the company interpreted as an endorsement for the judge. Kaplan appears to be emblematic of the tension within Facebook, which has found itself the subject of criticism from conservatives, which charge that the company is biased against them.