Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has hit back at claims about the company prioritising profit over safety and well being, calling these allegations untrue. He added that the argument about Facebook deliberately pushing 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. And I don't know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed," Zuckerberg (pictured) said in a Facebook post. He added that the moral, business and product incentives all point in the opposite direction.
He also cited the example of Facebook's introduction of the Meaningful Social Interactions change to News Feed to prove that it does not prioritise profit over safety and well being. According to him, the change showed fewer viral videos and more content from friends and family - which Facebook did knowing it would mean people spent less time on the platform, but that research suggested it was the right thing for people's well-being.
His statement followed a recent Senate hearing in the US where former Facebook employee and whistleblower, Frances Haugen, testified about internal documents showing the harm that Facebook's products are causing, such as mental health issues among teenagers. Before coming out as the whistleblower, Haugen gathered several internal documents which offered the basis for The Wall Street Journal's Facebook Files investigative series. According to WSJ, the documents showed how drug cartels were able to use Facebook's services openly and how its moderation rules favoured elites.
Haugen testified earlier this week that she had witnessed Facebook "repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profit and [users'] safety" and that the tech giant "consistently resolved" them in favour of its own profits, WSJ reported. She also called out Zuckerberg, who currently owns 58% of Facebook's voting shares, for his control over the company, WSJ added. According to Haugen, nobody is currently holding Zuckerberg accountable but himself and that under his leadership, the company makes decisions based on how the measurement of user engagement will be affected instead of the potential disadvantages that the decisions will have for the public, WSJ said.
Defending these allegations, Zuckerberg said in his post that Facebook cares deeply about issues such as safety, well-being 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," he added.
He also stated that many of the claims do not make sense. For example, if Facebook wanted to ignore research, why would it create a research programme to understand these important issues in the first place? If it wanted to hide its results, why would it have established a standard for transparency and reporting on what it was doing?
WSJ's Facebook Files also touched on how Facebook knew Instagram is toxic for teenage girls. Among the findings was that Instagram was the reason for 13% and 6% of British and American teens, respectively, wanting to kill themselves, WSJ said. In response, Zuckerberg said he has spent plenty of time reflecting on the kinds of experiences he wants his kids and others to have online, and it is very important for Zuckerberg that everything Facebook builds is safe and good for kids.
"The reality is that young people use technology. Think about how many school-age kids have phones. Rather than ignoring this, technology companies should build experiences that meet their needs while also keeping them safe. We're deeply committed to doing industry-leading work in this area. A good example of this work is Messenger Kids, which is widely recognised as better and safer than alternatives," he explained.
Facebook also sought to bring an age-appropriate experience with parental controls for Instagram but has since paused the project. According to Zuckerberg, the company wanted to take more time to engage with experts and ensure anything it does would be helpful.
He also defended the findings about Instagram, explaining that the research demonstrated that many teens Facebook heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced, including areas such as loneliness, anxiety, sadness and eating issues. "More teenage girls who said they struggled with that issue also said Instagram made those difficult times better rather than worse," he added.
That said, when it comes to young people's health or well-being, Zuckerberg said 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. 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," he added.
He also said that Facebook has advocated for updated Internet regulations for several years and that he has testified in Congress multiple times and requested them to update these regulations. While Facebook is committed to doing the best work it can, Zuckerberg said.
"I'm worried about the incentives that are being set here," Zuckerberg said, adding that Facebook has a research programme so it can identify important issues and work on them. He called it "disheartening" to see such work taken out of context and used to construct a false narrative that Facebook does not care.
"If we attack organisations making an effort to study their impact on the world, we're effectively sending the message that it's safer not to look at all, in case you find something that could be held against you. That's the conclusion other companies seem to have reached, and I think that leads to a place that would be far worse for society," he explained.
While it is frustrating to see Facebook's work being mischaracterised, Zuckerberg said that over the long term, if the company keeps trying to do what is right and delivering experiences that improve people's lives, it will be better for Facebook and the community. He has also asked leaders across the company to do deep dives on its work across many areas over the next few days.
Separately, following Facebook's plans to pause Instagram Kids last week, WSJ also reported yesterday that Facebook has delayed the release of new products in recent days. Citing its sources, WSJ said over a dozen individuals are now carrying out "reputational reviews" to investigate how Facebook may be criticised and to prevent its products from "adversely impacting" children. The tech giant also announced some features for Facebook Gaming recently.
"When I reflect on our work, I think about the real impact we have on the world -- the people who can now stay in touch with their loved ones, create opportunities to support themselves, and find community. This is why billions of people love our products. I'm proud of everything we do to keep building the best social products in the world and grateful to all of you for the work you do here every day," Zuckerberg said.
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