Meta’s Garrick Tiplady on Tech’s Role in Supporting Small Businesses

The VP & country director for Canada of Meta on how company initiatives are reaching businesses hard-hit by the pandemic

Canadian Business is back. Today’s CB is all about profiling and connecting innovative leaders who are changing Canada for the better.

Canadian Business gives these leaders—and those who want to learn from them—the resources, networking opportunities, and inspiration to innovate, connect and continue to challenge the status quo. One of the ways we are doing this is through the Canadian Business Leadership Circle, CB’s leader-in-residence program where each month we engage a different C-suite-level executive making an impact in their field. As part of the program, readers will have the chance to connect with these execs for mentorship and professional development through exclusive content, virtual fireside chats, and more.

Our leader-in-residence this month is Garrick Tiplady, VP & country director for Canada of Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook. Tiplady spoke with CB about how Meta is playing a key role in helping Canadian businesses recover from the pandemic, the power of building community online, and how the tech giant is handling misinformation.

You were recently appointed Meta’s VP & country director from managing director. How did your career bring you to here? 

It’s fair to say I’m a classic generalist. I’ve worked across multiple functions, industries, and geographies. But the one commonality is that there’s always been a technology aspect to everything I’ve done. I started my career working at a non-profit, then shifted to Procter & Gamble, which was a crash course in business. Coming out of business school, I had the opportunity to work at Boston Consulting Group, where I effectively advised Fortune 50 companies across almost every region of the globe. I then moved to Rogers, where I cut my teeth as an operator, and was also fortunate to spend time working with Ted Rogers who is, in my view, still one of Canada’s greatest entrepreneurs. In many ways, it was Ted who scratched an entrepreneurial itch that I had for a long time. I left Rogers and started a number of businesses, which ultimately paved the way for me to join Facebook, now called Meta. I’ve been at Meta for almost four years.

How would you describe your vision for the Canadian arm of Meta?

We’re focused on three major themes. First, we want our platforms to be the best place for millions of creators to earn a living. Second, we are building world-class services at every layer of commerce, from discovery through to payments. Lastly, we are focused on building the next generation computing platform and investing in technologies to deliver a full sense of connection and presence in the digital world. In Canada, one of the areas I’ve been highly focused on is coalition building—bringing businesses, industry groups, civic organizations, and nonprofits together for a single purpose. 

Over the last year, we’ve partnered with a wide breadth of organizations to help solve larger challenges. We supported This Is Our Shot, a coalition of businesses, communities and frontline workers who have been working to build a national vaccine confidence program. Last summer, in the height of the first [pandemic] shutdown, we supported small business recovery with RBC’s Canada United campaign, bringing together 10,000 small businesses across the country. More recently, we supported Indigenous creators in partnership with the National Arts Centre. And the latest example is our partnership with Apathy is Boring to increase civic engagement ahead of the federal election. Nothing we do in Canada is in a vacuum, and none of these programs would be possible without close partnerships across industries at a grassroots level.

In May 2020, the company announced several initiatives to support small businesses in Canada impacted by the pandemic—including $3.5 million in grants, virtual training programs and product features. How would you assess the successes and challenges of these initiatives more than a year out?

When we announced those programs, they were the impetus for how we need to continue to show up for small businesses. When we were in the early waves of the pandemic, the small business grants provided a much-needed injection of financial support across the country. I’m happy to say those funds reached more than 650 businesses. As part of that, we partnered with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Business Resilience Network to complement that with free virtual training sessions. 

We’ve continued to evolve our small business programming over the last year. When we looked at it, we needed to get more specific with how we support small businesses and ensure we were reaching those who have been hardest-hit. For instance, we know BIPOC business owners face systemic barriers when it comes to starting, growing and scaling a business. We also know they were particularly hit hard during COVID-19, which is why we’ve tailored many of our programs over the last year to support their recovering growth. We’ve worked with the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR) to create programs that will benefit both Black- and women-owned businesses. We partnered with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, Shopify, Raven Indigenous Capital, Pow Wow Pitch and entrepreneurs to create We Thrive, an Indigenous buying guide and shoppable ad campaign on Facebook and Instagram featuring products from Indigenous-owned businesses. We’ll continue listening to small businesses, partnering with leading organizations, and ensuring our services continue to support and meet their needs.

There are public calls to address the type of content shared on social media, particularly regarding misinformation on COVID-19. What patterns of dissemination have you seen and how is Meta countering misinformation? 

It’s important to start by saying misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines that can lead to any real-world harm has no place on our platforms, and we’re going to do what we can to remove it when we find it. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve removed more than 20 million pieces of content from Facebook and Instagram globally. We’ve removed more than 3,000 accounts, pages and groups for violating our rules against spreading vaccine misinformation. We’ve displayed warnings on more than 119 million pieces of COVID 19-related content that our third-party fact-checkers deemed false. If removing content is half the equation, the other half is promoting credible information. 

Since the pandemic began, more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines from health experts on Facebook. In Canada, we’ve integrated content from provincial health organizations into our COVID-19 Information Centre. We’ve also been giving ad credits to help Canadian health organizations reach people across the country with important information. Our approach regarding content on the platform is to create a place for free expression and where people can share their voice. At the same time, we need to ensure and invest in a safe place where people don’t have to see content that’s meant to exclude, intimidate, or silence them. 

During the 2019 election, Meta launched its Canadian Election Integrity Initiative, which includes a measure to reduce the amount of political posts that appear in Canadians’ newsfeeds. How does this work? What does such a sweeping measure say about how social media platforms will handle news, content and free speech more broadly in the future?

There’s been some confusion around what this initiative means and why we’re doing it. Reducing the prominence of political content in newsfeeds isn’t new, and not related to our election integrity efforts in Canada. Back in February 2021, we shared feedback that we commonly hear, which is that people would like to see less political content in their newsfeed. In response to this feedback, we began testing several approaches based on people’s preferences for political content at the top of their feed. It’s important to note we’re not removing content. We’re trying to strike the right balance between allowing people to find and interact with political content on Facebook, while at the same time, respect their appetite for the content they see at the top of their feed. Newsfeeds must decide what a person is most likely to be interested in out of all the content they’re eligible to see every time they log in, whether that’s content from friends, businesses, pages, or groups. It’s just not possible to see everything in one visit. Some content needs to be ranked to give people the best possible experience, and that’s what these changes were meant to address. Based on our initial tests, we’ve seen very positive results, and we’ve expanded this test to additional countries across the globe.

How would you define Meta’s values in the Canadian context?

What attracted me to Meta was its mission to build community and bring the world closer together. If I look back over the last two years in the pandemic, the importance of community has taken on an entirely new meeting. We’ve seen countless examples of Canadians across the country coming together, and in many cases, they’ve used Facebook to help build those connections—online and offline. Early in the pandemic, there was this great example of a woman named Mita Hans who launched a Facebook group called Caremongering Toronto. The goal of the group was to ensure that the most vulnerable communities had access to food, housing, health care, and any other necessities. The idea took off across the country and all parts of the globe. Whether it’s a neighbour volunteering to lend a hand or a national movement to encourage vaccine confidence, community will continue to play a role in recovering from COVID-19 and how we shape the country. I’m extraordinarily proud to be a part of Facebook because it’s an organization that gives Canadians the power to build community.