Facebook is bringing the minimalist version of its app to some developed countries, including the United States. The news came shortly after the social media giant apologized on Friday after its autocomplete search feature suggested video titles that described child abuse.
Facebook Lite is a parred down version of the social network’s mobile app. It is designed as a way for people with older phones, limited data plans, or slow and intermittent internet connections to access Facebook.
On Thursday, Android users in the United States, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, France, Germany, Ireland and New Zealand were able to download Facebook Lite.
Addressing slow or limited internet access is part of the company’s ongoing quest to get the next billion people to sign up for Facebook accounts.
In 2009, the company launched Facebook Lite as a bare-bones version of its website. In 2015, it began offering Facebook Lite as an app. The app originally launched in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Nigeria, Nepal, South Africa, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and eventually expanded to more than 100 countries.
“We want everyone to have a great Facebook experience regardless of where they connect or the bandwidth they have access to,” Facebook said in a statement. “Facebook Lite is now available in even more countries, so anyone can access Facebook features regardless of where they are connecting.”
I tested Facebook Lite on an Android phone. The retro-looking design crams more onto the screen by using smaller text, less white space, and simplified graphics. It lacks the animated swiping and bouncing flourishes you might be used to from Facebook Heavy.
All the core Facebook features are present. You can like, comment on or share the posts in your feed, and upload photos and videos. Some power- and bandwidth-hogs are missing, including Facebook Live and the Watch section.
If you’re not worried about data, struggling with shoddy internet connections, or using an old Android phone, there’s not much advantage to using Lite. It’s not unpleasant, but it probably won’t help you cut down on Facebook usage.
On Friday, Facebook apologized after its autocomplete search feature suggested video titles that described child abuse.
Some Facebook users who typed “video of” into the platform’s search bar on Thursday night presented with autocomplete suggestions about videos of young girls performing sex acts.
Some users shared screenshots of the search results on Twitter.
“We’re very sorry this happened,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNN. “As soon as we became aware of these offensive predictions we removed them.”
The company said its search predictions represent what people may be searching for but do not necessarily reflect content that is on Facebook.
Facebook says it is investigating how the search suggestions emerged.
“We are looking into why these search predictions appeared, and going forward, we’re working to improve the quality of search predictions,” the spokesperson said. “We do not allow sexually explicit imagery, and we are committed to keeping such content off of our site.”
Jonathon Morgan, the founder of New Knowledge, a company that tracks the spread of misinformation online, said it is possible that Facebook’s algorithm was manipulated in a coordinated attempt to alter its search predictions.
“Search suggestions are based on search queries, not actual content,” Morgan said. “If a lot of people search for an uncharacteristic phrase in a short period of time, these systems decide that they should recommend that phrase to other users, under the assumption that it’s topical.”
“This leaves the platform vulnerable to manipulation by groups of people internally entering search phrases that will confuse or misdirect other users,” he added.
Facebook has faced renewed scrutiny around the manipulation of its platform, particularly in the United States. Facebook has estimated more than 120 million Americans may have seen content posted by a Russian government-linked troll group who used Facebook to post divisive content designed to sow discord in the U.S. between 2014 – 2017. Thirteen Russian nationals allegedly associated with the group were indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in February.