Mark Zuckerberg posts rebuttal of whistleblower’s claims, and it’s exactly what you thought it’d be:
If there’s one key takeaway from yesterday’s Senate hearing with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, it’s that Facebook is prioritizing revenue over the well-being of its users.
Now, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg would like you to know that it’s all totally, absolutely, completely untrue, and he’s using the oldest argument in the book.
In a lengthy post published late Tuesday, Zuckerberg addressed the hearing and the subsequent media coverage, which he thinks “misrepresents” Facebook’s work and motives.
“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. He then refuted several of the points Haugen made during the hearing by making essentially the same argument over and over again: How could Facebook do bad things when it has all these programs in place that are supposedly designed to protect the well-being of Facebook’s users?
“For example, one move that has been called into question is when we introduced the Meaningful Social Interactions change to News Feed. 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 well-being. Is that something a company focused on profits over people would do?” Zuckerberg wrote.
The problem with that argument is that yes, it is entirely possible to have many good-sounding and well-intentioned programs and then misuse them, or ignore some of their findings. This, in fact, is exactly what Haugen claimed in her testimony. The Meaningful Social Interactions change that Zuckerberg has mentioned, or MSI, is (per The Wall Street Journal’s recent investigation) a tool that measures how Facebook users interact with content. Contrary to what Zuckerberg claims, Haugen said that Facebook’s reliance on MSI actually caused more polarization and misinformation spread on the platform, and according to the WSJ, Facebook’s own internal research provided no evidence that the MSI change to the News Feed increased the well-being of Facebook’s users.
Zuckerberg also said that the argument that Facebook intentionally pushes more content that makes people angry 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,” he wrote.
On the topic of the recently shuttered Instagram Kids, Zuckerberg also addressed Instagram’s effect on young people, arguing that Facebook “constantly” uses its research to prevent negative experiences for young people on the platform.
Again, while Zuckerberg’s arguments may make sense, the reality is that we don’t know first-hand what Facebook is doing internally to protect the well-being of its users, because the company isn’t providing us with all the data. The information that is out there comes from leaked, internal documents and whistleblowers such as Haugen, and it often points to different conclusions than whatever Facebook is serving us. It’d be easier to believe Zuckerberg if the company were a little more transparent about what it does behind closed doors.
Towards the end of his post, Facebook’s CEO shifts some of the blame onto other, unnamed companies, which he thinks aren’t making an effort to study their effects on users at all. “Even though it might be easier for us to follow that path, we’re going to keep doing research because it’s the right thing to do,” he wrote.
Finally, Zuckerberg makes the point that private companies shouldn’t make all these decisions on their own; instead, they should be regulated by the governing bodies of the countries they operate in. It’s an argument Facebook has pulled often, for example when it defended its allowance of lies in political ads on the platform.
While this post from Zuckerberg has been a little more detailed than the company’s usual responses to bad press, the core issues haven’t changed: Facebook is secretive about numerous aspects of its platform, and whenever some internal documents leak out, they never paint a very good picture of the company. For all the talk about “industry-leading research” on identifying issues and “delivering experiences that improve people’s lives,” from the outside it seems like nothing’s really changing at Facebook.
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