Mark Zuckerberg denies Facebook puts profit over users’ safety

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t testify at today’s whistleblower hearing, but he has posted a lengthy reply to the accusations being lobbed at the company. He said the Frances Haugen’s claims don’t make sense and that they paint a “false picture” of the social network. “At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being. That’s just not true,” he wrote in his post. The Facebook chief cited the Meaningful Social Interactions (MSI) update to News Feed, which was designed to show fewer viral videos and more content from friends and family. 

He said the company went through with the change knowing that it would make people spend less time on the website, because research suggested it was the right thing thing to do for people’s well-being. In Haugen’s testimony, she painted MSI in a less flattering light. She said Zuckerberg chose to apply “metrics defined by Facebook” like MSI “over changes that would have significantly decreased misinformation and other inciting content.” The whistleblower said the CEO was presented with solutions to make Facebook “less viral, less twitchy,” but he decided not to use them because they had a negative impact on the MSI metric. 

In the SEC complaint she filed, Haugen claimed that Facebook allowed “hateful” and “divisive” content, because it is “easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.” Zuckerberg addressed that in his post, as well, calling it “deeply illogical.” Facebook makes money from ads, he said, and advertisers apparently tell the company that they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content. 

In addition, Zuckerberg said the research into how Instagram affects young people was mischaracterized. He didn’t explicitly mention it, but The Wall Street Journal published an article in mid-September about how it knows Instagram is toxic for teen girls based on internal documents detailing Facebook’s own research. The social network eventually published a couple of documents from that research, but Haugen provided Congress with four more. Zuckerberg defended the platform, writing that many teens the company heard from actually “feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced.”

Haugen, who joined Facebook in 2019, worked on democracy and misinformation issues when she was with the company. She brought “tens of thousands” of pages of internal Facebook documents to Whistleblower Aid founder John Tye in addition to filing a whistleblower complaint with the SEC. There were several reports that came out based on those documents, including the existence of a VIP program that enabled high-profile users to skirt Facebook’s rules. Haugen also accused Facebook of contributing to election misinformation and the January 6th US Capitol riots.

As for Zuckerberg, part of his post reads:

“If we wanted to ignore research, why would we create an industry-leading research program to understand these important issues in the first place? If we didn’t care about fighting harmful content, then why would we employ so many more people dedicated to this than any other company in our space — even ones larger than us? If we wanted to hide our results, why would we have established an industry-leading standard for transparency and reporting on what we’re doing? And if social media were as responsible for polarizing society as some people claim, then why are we seeing polarization increase in the US while it stays flat or declines in many countries with just as heavy use of social media around the world?”

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