In a note to Facebook employees, Mark Zuckerberg defended his company and said that the recent claims of an ex-employee regarding social networks' negative effects on society don't make sense.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manger, testified before Congress Tuesday about a collection of internal documents that she provided to The Wall Street Journal. While the hearing focused on Facebook's internal research showing that Instagram can negatively affect young people, Haugen used the opportunity to attack the company's business model as well as its News Feed algorithm. Her main argument was that Facebook's business model of selling ads based upon engagement makes it easy to keep users using the service even though it knows the content is harmful.
Arguments that we intentionally push content that angers people for profit are deeply absurd.
Zuckerberg stated in a memo that he said that the argument that we intentionally push content that makes people mad for profit is completely absurd. He also posted it on his Facebook page. Advertisers tell us that they don't want their ads to be next to any harmful or offensive content. We make our money from advertising. I don't know of any tech company that aims to make people mad or depressed. All of the moral, business, and product incentives point in the other direction.
Zuckerberg has been remarkably silent about Haugen and on the internal documents she provided to The Wall Street Journal. He posted a video of himself sailing Sunday, the day after she disclosed her identity to 60 Minutes. This was later pointed out by lawmakers as evidence that he was trying to avoid scrutiny. Haugen also called Zuckerberg to testify before the same committee, but Zuckerberg didn't respond to that request in his 1,300 word rebuttal. He also didn't mention Haugen, as he did with Facebooks previous statements.
She also mentioned her claim to Congress that the 2018 News Feed update to prioritize what the company calls Meaningful Social Interactions incentivizes the sharing of hateful and divisive material. He stated that the change was made to encourage sharing more content among friends, but that Facebook knew it would result in lower engagement. Does that sound like something a company with a focus on profits would do?
Facebook's internal research on Instagram's negative effects upon teens was the main topic at Tuesday's hearing. This angered many and led to calls for independent experts to review the research. Zuckerberg stated that the company would continue to conduct research and make more public.
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Hello everyone! It's been a busy week and I wanted to share my thoughts with you all.
First, yesterday's SEV outage that shut down all of our services was the worst we have experienced in many years. The past 24 hours have been spent debriefing on how to strengthen our systems against such a failure. It was also a reminder about how important our work is to people. An outage like this raises more concerns than whether people switch to cheaper services or how much money they lose. It also affects the lives of those who depend on our services to communicate with their loved ones, support their businesses and help their communities.
Second, after today's testimony has ended, I want to reflect on the public discussion. I'm sure that many of you find the recent coverage difficult to read. It doesn't reflect the company we are. Safety, well-being, and mental health are important to us. It is difficult to recognize coverage that misrepresents us and our motives. The most basic truth is that most people don't see the fake picture of the company being painted.
Many of these claims are absurd. We wouldn't create an industry-leading program of research to study these critical issues if we decided to ignore research. If we didn't care about fighting harmful contents, why would we have so many people dedicated to it than any other company in the space, even larger ones? We would not have created an industry-leading standard in transparency and reporting about our activities if we wanted to hide the results. If social media was as important in polarizing society, why is it that we are seeing polarization rise in the US and decline in other countries using social media?
These accusations are rooted in the idea that profit is more important than safety and well-being. This is simply not true. One example is the Meaningful Social Interactions (MSI) change to News Feed. This move has been questioned. We made this change knowing that it would result in fewer viral videos, and more content from family and friends. However, research showed it to be the best thing for people's well-being. What would a company that is focused on profit over people do with this?
It is absurd to argue that we intentionally push content that angers people for profit. Advertisers make money, and they tell us repeatedly that they don't want their ads to be next to any content that is harmful or offensive. I don't know of any tech company that aims to make people mad or depressed. All of the moral, business, and product incentives point in the other direction.
I am most focused on the questions that are raised about my work with children. I have spent much time thinking about the types of experiences I want for my children and others online. It is very important that all we create be safe and beneficial to kids.
Technology is a common tool used by young people. Consider how many school-aged children have smartphones. Technology companies must not ignore this fact and create experiences that satisfy their needs and keep them safe. This is an area where we are deeply committed. Messenger Kids is a good example of such work. It is widely acknowledged as safer and better than other alternatives.
We have also been working on this type of age-appropriate experience, with parental controls for Instagram. We stopped the project due to questions about whether it would be better for children.
As many others, I was unable to understand the misleading interpretation of Instagram's impact on young people. This is what we wrote in our Newsroom article explaining: Many teens who spoke out said that Instagram helped them cope with difficult situations and issues that teenagers face. In fact, 11 of the 12 slides that the Journal referenced, including areas such as loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and eating disorders, more teenage girls who reported having struggled with these issues said Instagram made them feel better.
Every negative experience is important when it comes down to young people's well-being and health. It is very sad to see a young person who has been in distress and instead of being helped, finds their situation worse. Our industry-leading efforts have been a success for many years. I am proud of what we have accomplished. This work is constantly improved by our research.
As with other social issues, I don't believe that private companies should be able to make all the decisions. Since many years, we have been advocating for updated internet regulations. Multiple times, I testified before Congress and requested that they update the regulations. I have written Op-Eds outlining which areas of regulation are most important in relation to elections, competition, harmful content, privacy, or both.
While we are committed to doing the best possible work, the Congress is the right body to evaluate tradeoffs between social equity and our democratically elected Congress. What is the appropriate age for teens to access internet services? What should internet services do to verify the ages of people? How can companies ensure teens privacy and give parents access to their activities?
It is important to get a complete picture if we are going to have an informed discussion about the impact of social media on youth. We are committed to conducting more research and making more information public.
Despite this, I am concerned about the incentives being offered. Our industry-leading research program allows us to identify and address important issues. It is disheartening when that work is taken out of context and used as a false narrative to show that we don't care. We are sending the message that it is safer to not look at anything if you discover something that could be used against you if we attack organizations that make an effort to understand their impact on the world. This is the conclusion that other companies have reached and it would be a disaster for society. We will continue to research even though it may be easier to go that way, because it is the right thing to.
It can be frustrating to see all the great work we do being misunderstood, especially for those who make important contributions in safety, integrity and product. It will benefit our community and our company long-term if we do the right thing and deliver experiences that make people's lives better. Leaders from the company have been asked to dive into the work in many areas of the company over the next few days. This will allow you to see all that we are doing.
Reflecting on our work makes me think about the real value we make to the world. People who are able to stay in touch with loved ones, find support, and build community. These are the reasons why our products are loved by billions. I am proud of all we do to continue building the best social product in the world, and I am grateful for your hard work every day.