Facebook reportedly stopped a project to encourage healthier political discussions after a key exec thought it might offend conservatives

Chesnot/Getty ImagesJoel Kaplan and Mark Zuckerberg
  • Facebook shelved a project called “Common Ground” that would aim to encourage healthier political discourse on the platform, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Part of the reason why: Joel Kaplan, the company’s policy chief, thought it would spark fears of anti-conservative bias – something Facebook has sought to avoid.
  • Kaplan has had generally more say over product decisions than before, as the company tries to navigate murky political waters, and pushed for conservative outlet the Daily Caller to be included in the company’s fact-checking initiative.
  • Kaplan, formerly of the George W. Bush Administration, came under fire earlier this year for appearing on Capitol Hill to support his friend Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Facebook stopped working on a project, called “Common Ground,” that was aimed at encouraging healthier political discourse among users, partially at the urging of policy chief Joel Kaplan, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The “Common Ground” initiative is said to have consisted of many parts, including boosting news stories and status updates posted by people on the opposite end of the political spectrum from users, while also demoting “toxic” comments that start “negative discussion.”

Kaplan’s objection, according to the report, was that the term “Common Ground” itself could be taken as patronizing, and that it would ask users to trust Facebook’s definition of what healthy conversation looks like.

Ultimately, Kaplan is said to have believed that these efforts to curb political polarization would have opened the platform up to criticism from conservatives – something that the social network has sought to avoid in recent years, as conservative lawmakers and public figures have accused it of left-wing bias. Following Kaplan’s complaint, Zuckerberg and others raised concerns over how the initiative would affect Facebook user engagement, and the project was shelved, says the Journal.

Read more:

Facebook is battling an internal revolt after one of its execs went to the Kavanaugh hearing

In general, the Journal reports, Kaplan has become more involved with Facebook product decisions, as the company tries to navigate tricky political waters. Kaplan is said to have recently pushed for conservative news outlet The Daily Caller to be included in the company’s controversial efforts to tap news media fact-checkers to curb misinformation on the platform. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly leaned in favour of Kaplan’s proposal, but the debate became moot when the Daily Caller lost a key journalism accreditation in November.

Read the full Wall Street Journal report here.

Kaplan came into the public eye earlier this year when he visibly seated himself behind Justice Brett Kavanaugh, then an embattled nominee for the Supreme Court, as the judge defended himself against allegations of sexual misconduct from multiple women. Kaplan and Kavanaugh are long-time friends, dating back to their time serving together in the George W. Bush administration.

Kaplan’s attendance at the hearings, in such a visible capacity, outraged Facebook employees. Kaplan is said to have apologised for not clearing his attendance at the hearings with Facebook leadership first.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider. A Facebook spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that it is continuing its work to study political polarization, and that it tries to understand a wide variety of political perspectives.

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