Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe a single thing from the released memo from the whistleblower Frances Haugen who was also a former employee at the company.
Haugen had claimed that before leaving Facebook earlier this year, she had copied internal memos as well as documents all of which were shared with the Wall Street Journal.
Zuckerberg on the other hand says the stories about the company’s research are “hard to read because it just doesn’t reflect the company we know.”
He further argues that “many of [Haugen’s] claims don’t make any sense,” particularly her assertion that Facebook values profit above the security and safety of its users.
In defense of the company he founded, he made a list of positive things the company has introduced in recent years such as the 2016 update to the News Feed that prioritized content from family and friends over viral content as well as another update in 2018 which showed less content from brands, businesses, and media organizations.
Facebook did that “knowing it would mean people spent less time on Facebook, but that research suggested it was the right thing for people’s well-being. Is that something a company focused on profits over people would do?” Zuckerberg asks.
That may be true, but as NiemenLab reported in 2019, those changes “pushed up articles on divisive topics like abortion, religion, and guns,” while the angry reaction dominated on many Pages, particularly that of Fox News.
He however denied that angry content is a good business.
“We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content,” he says. “And I don’t know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed. The moral, business, and product incentives all point in the opposite direction.”
Haugen during her hearing to a US Senate subcommittee said that said she doesn’t think Facebook was built with the wrong intentions, however, that the company doesn’t have effective communication between the growth teams and those who are responsible for reducing harm.
“There are organizational problems that need oversight, and Facebook needs helps in order to move forward to a more healthy place,” she said.
Her former boss wasn’t buying this and gave a long response saying “It’s frustrating to see the good work we do get mischaracterized…but I believe that over the long term if we keep trying to do what’s right and delivering experiences that improve people’s lives, it will be better for our community and our business.”
Facebook came under heavy criticism over its handling of data gotten after a survey on teenage users of its sister social media platform, Instagram.
Haugen argued that younger people don’t have the emotional maturity to desist from addictive services such as Instagram as it’s a big part of their social lives.
Zuckerberg says he “found it difficult to read the mischaracterization of the research into how Instagram affects young people.
“But when it comes to young people’s health or well-being, every negative experience matters. It is incredibly sad to think of a young person in a moment of distress who, instead of being comforted, has their experience made worse,” he adds. “We have worked for years on industry-leading efforts to help people in these moments and I’m proud of the work we’ve done. We constantly use our research to improve this work further.”
Zuckerberg didn’t really give an inch in his statement. The closest he got was saying he’s “asked leaders across the company to do deep dives on our work across many areas over the next few days, so you can see everything that we’re doing” to improve the community and business.
He then added that “When I reflect on our work, I think about the real impact we have on the world.” The CEO also punts responsibility for any of the tougher questions to Congress. “At some level the right body to assess tradeoffs between social equities is our democratically elected Congress,” he writes.
Also, the chairman of the US Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Sen. Richard Blumenthal added that Facebook CEO needs to appear before Congress to further clarify what Facebook did and why it was done.
And as for Haugen, her former employer tried to paint her as inexperienced with no real authority during her time at Facebook but the former head of Civic Integrity at the social network giant Samidh Chakrabarti defended her on Twitter.