Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on putting profit before safety: 'That's just not true'

Mark Zuckerberg responds to claims that Facebook prioritises profit over safety and wellbeing.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly addressed claims that the social media giant prioritises profit over safety and wellbeing is "just not true".

"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 recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted," Zuckerberg wrote in note to Facebook employees that he publicly posted on his Facebook page.

"The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical," he continued. 

"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."

The response comes after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen fronted the US Senate as part of its inquiry into Facebook's operations, declaring the company as "morally bankrupt" and casting "the choices being made inside of Facebook" as "disastrous for our children, our privacy, and our democracy".

Haugen, who used to work as the lead product manager for Facebook's civic misinformation team, told the Senate that Facebook "is choosing to grow at all costs" -- which means that profits are being "bought with our safety." This, in turn, is encouraging "more division, more harm, more lies, more threats, [and] more combat" online.

Haugen added that Zuckerberg "has built an organisation that is very metrics-driven -- the metrics make the decision," and, therefore, the buck stops with him.

The allegations stem from The Facebook Files, a series of investigations posted by The Wall Street Journal. The articles are based on internal files, draft presentations, research, and internal staff communication leaked by the whistleblower.

The Wall Street Journal published six of the internal documents which were the basis of its investigation. Facebook then published two of them, complete with annotations last week. 

Zuckerberg said many of the claims "don't make any sense".

"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?" he wrote. 

"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?"

He also took the opportunity to address claims that raised questions about the impact Facebook has in relation to the safety and wellbeing of children specifically. 

Haugen told Senate members that "Facebook knows that its amplification algorithms can lead children from innocuous topics -- such as healthy food recipes -- to anorexia-promoting content over a short period of time".

"When it comes to young people's health or wellbeing, every negative experience matters … 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," Zuckerberg said.

Facebook announced last week it was hitting pause on plans to develop a version of Instagram for kids, citing the need for more time to work more closely with "parents, experts, policymakers, and regulators." 


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