Mark Zuckerberg has hit back at the testimony of the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, saying her claims the company puts profit over people’s safety are “just not true”.
In a blog post, the Facebook founder and chief executive addressed one of the most damaging statements in Ms Haugen’s opening speech to US senators on Tuesday, that Facebook puts “astronomical profits before people”.
“At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritise profit over safety and wellbeing. That’s just not true,” he said.
He added: “The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical. We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content.”
Mr Zuckerberg said many of the claims made by Ms Haugen – and in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), based on documents she leaked – “don’t make any sense”. The most damaging reporting in the WSJ, reiterated at length by Ms Haugen in testimony to the US Senate on Tuesday, was that Facebook failed to act on internal research showing that its Instagram app was damaging teenagers’ mental health.
“Many of the claims don’t make any sense. If we wanted to ignore research, why would we create an industry-leading research programme to understand these important issues in the first place?” he said.
Harmful content claim
Responding to Ms Haugen’s claims that Facebook’s attempts to limit harmful content were constantly hampered by a shortage of staff, he said:
“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?”
Ms Haugen’s testimony, and accompanying statements by US senators in the hearing, repeatedly questioned whether Facebook could be trusted. “Facebook has not earned a right to just have blind trust in them,” said Ms Haugen, a former Facebook employee who worked on the company’s unit monitoring electoral interference before she quit in May.
Mr Zuckerberg said a change to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm in 2018 was implemented because it increased wellbeing. According to Ms Haugen, internal Facebook research showed that the change to News Feed – a customised scroll of content that is a core part of Facebook users’ interaction with the platform – had amplified divisive content.
Mr Zuckerberg said: “This change showed fewer viral videos and more content from friends and family – which we did knowing it would mean people spent less time on Facebook, but that research suggested it was the right thing for people’s wellbeing. Is that something a company focused on profits over people would do?”
Addressing company staff in the Facebook post, made late on Tuesday, Mr Zuckerberg said he expected many employees would not recognise the business portrayed in the WSJ coverage and Ms Haugen’s testimony.
“I’m sure many of you have found the recent coverage hard to read because it just doesn’t reflect the company we know,” he wrote. “We care deeply about issues like safety, wellbeing and mental health. It’s difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives. At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognise the false picture of the company that is being painted.”
Mr Zuckerberg opened the post with a reference to Monday’s platform outage when the company’s services – including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – went offline for nearly six hours. Facebook has 3.5 billion monthly active users across its platforms including Instagram and WhatsApp.
“The deeper concern with an outage like this isn’t how many people switch to competitive services or how much money we lose, but what it means for the people who rely on our services to communicate with loved ones, run their businesses or support their communities,” he said.