Mark Zuckerberg: Frances Haugen’s Allegations Don’t Make Sense

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's Parse Developer Day, 2013. Credit: Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg rejects Frances Haugen’s testimony that Facebook puts profits before people’s safety, and says many of her allegations don’t make sense

The head of Facebook has hit back at the damaging testimony made by whistleblower Frances Haugen to the US Senate on Tuesday.

In her opening speech to US Senators on Tuesday, that Haugen alleged that Facebook puts “astronomical profits before people”. She has also claimed that Facebook knows it is harming people, and she said the social networking weakens democracy.

However CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is not taking this broadside from Haugen lying down, and hit back hard in a blog post.

Image credit: US Senate

Frances Haugen

Frances Haugen worked as a product manager on the civic misinformation team at Facebook before she resigned in May, and she reportedly left the firm with thousands of pages of internal research documents.

Despite that offense, a Facebook executive told US senators last week that the firm would not prosecute the whistleblower.

It came after the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had reported on leaked internal research which suggested that Instagram had a harmful effect on teenagers, particularly teen girls.

Days after that, the head of Instagram confirmed it was ‘pausing’ the development of the “Instagram Kids” app.

Frances Haugen then appeared on Sunday on the CBS television program “60 Minutes,” revealing her identity as the whistleblower who provided the documents that underpinned the WSJ investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teen girls.

On Sunday Haugen accused the social media giant of repeatedly prioritising profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation.

She also alleged that Facebook had failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitancy and was aware that Instagram harmed the mental health of teenage girls.

Haugen’s testimony

During her testimony on Tuesday to US Senators, she repeated much of her previous allegations.

She alleged that Facebook has taken limited action to address existing misinformation, and only removes as little as 3 to 5 percent of hate speech.

Additionally, Haugen alleged the company falsely told advertisers they had done all they could do to prevent the US Capitol insurrection on 6 January.

Despite Facebook’s claims that they “remove content from Facebook no matter who posts it, when it violates our standards,” Haugen alleged that “in practice the ‘XCheck’ or ‘Cross-Check’ system effectively ‘whitelists’ high-profile and/or privilege users.

She also alleged Facebook’s research also claims that its own platforms “make body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.”

She also alleged that Facebook knows its platforms enable human exploitation.

Zuckerberg response

But Mark Zuckerberg has hit back at Haugen’s allegations, pointing out that many of Haugen’s allegations don’t make sense.

Zuckerberg began his blog post with a comment about the severe global outage that hit Facebook owned platforms on Monday, before moving onto the thorny issue of Haugen’s allegations.

“Second, now that today’s testimony is over, I wanted to reflect on the public debate we’re in,” wrote Zuckerberg. “I’m sure many of you have found the recent coverage hard to read because it just doesn’t reflect the company we know. 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.”

“Many of the claims don’t make any sense,” he argued. “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?”

“At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritise profit over safety and well-being,” wrote Zuckerberg. “That’s just not true.”

“The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” he added. “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. The moral, business and product incentives all point in the opposite direction.”

Zuckerberg accepted that the reality is that young people use technology, but said the firm is committed to creating a safe environment for children.

Frustrated Mark

And Zuckerberg made clear his anger at the Wall Street Journal investigation, which he said was a deliberate mischaracterisation of the research.

“Like many of you, I found it difficult to read the mischaracterisation of the research into how Instagram affects young people,” he wrote. “The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced.”

“I know it’s frustrating to see the good work we do get mischaracterised, especially for those of you who are making important contributions across safety, integrity, research and product,” said Zuckerberg.

Whatever Zuckerberg’s assertions, it is likely he will be asked to appear once again to answer questions directly from US Senators.