We’re three weeks away from Christmas. For many, this time of the year means taking a trip back home to see their family and friends. This also applies to Facebook employees, only, unlike the rest of us, they’ve been trained to answer the inquisitive, sometimes impolite questions that we all receive when spending more than an hour with close ones.
Facebook only recently introduced its employees to the Liam Bot, a chatbot that teaches employees what to say if friends or family ask tricky questions about the company over the holidays, after some Facebook employees shared with their managers that they were concerned about answering difficult questions about their workplace (the kind of questions Mark Zuckerberg regularly faces in congressional hearings).
Listening to its employees’ worries, and, probably, concerned that this could lead to yet another public controversy, Facebook launched the Liam Bot just before Thanksgiving. Talking to the New York Times about the chatbot, a Facebook spokeswoman said, “Our employees regularly ask for information to use with friends and family on topics that have been in the news, especially around the holidays.” This is far from surprising, seeing as the social media’s reputation has plummeted in the last two years.
After Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing in October, where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other lawmakers grilled him about anything they could, it was clear that Facebook would need to prepare its employees against the same type of questions. That’s what the Liam Bot, a simple software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create a fake conversation, is here to teach employees.
According to the New York Times, the chatbot gives answers such as, “Facebook consults with experts on the matter,” or “It has hired more moderators to police its content,” and, “It is working on AI to spot hate speech,” and also, “Regulation is important for addressing the issue.” The answers, even though they don’t sound as groundbreaking or convincing as they should, were put together by Facebook’s PR department. The Liam Bot is simply reciting what has been publicly said many times before him.
Some of you might wonder how Facebook employees dealt with difficult questions before the chatbot was introduced to them. Well, the company used to do the work by itself, with the help of humanpower. The social media giant used to provide employees with ‘guidance’ by sharing news releases in internal groups or sometimes directly sharing them with those who asked for advice in the first place. This year, Facebook obviously felt like it had to be more efficient in ‘coaching’ its employees.
But the Liam Bot can do more than recite PR answers deemed acceptable by the social media platform. It goes as far as linking its answers to actual blog posts as well as helping with less inquisitive questions, such as questions about Facebook’s practical technology use. So, who knows, perhaps a day will come when the Liam Bot will be available to anyone, and, hopefully, it will be able to answer your grandma’s annual Christmas question: “How do I post a picture of my dog on Facebook?”
In the meantime, if any of you have a friend or family member who works for Facebook, please feel free to test their training by asking them how exactly the company targets audiences when it comes to political ads, or what it does with our data, or ask anything that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez previously asked Mark Zuckerberg. I can almost guarantee they won’t have the right answers, with or without the Liam Bot’s help.
Happy holidays, and good luck deflecting criticism to any Facebook employee. After all, it’s never a good sign when your company needs to train you to say something nice about it.