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Facebook CEO Zuckerberg: Whistleblower, leaked documents paint a "false picture" of company

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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, weeks after testifying before Congress, on Monday delivered to members of the British Parliament a similar message: The social network giant has cultivated a platform for hate and polarizing content with little incentive to change.

Haugen, a data engineer and scientist, appeared before U.K. lawmakers to discuss her explosive revelations about the inner workings at Facebook, including what she claims is a system that prioritizes profits over people.

During her 2 1/2 hour appearance before a Parliament panel, Haugen urged British lawmakers to regulate Facebook.

"Until incentives change, Facebook will not change," she said.

Later in the day, the typically mild-mannered Zuckerberg aggressively defended the company he founded, complaining of "a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.”

"Good faith criticism" helps Facebook get better, but Facebook has developed industry leading programs and is on track to spend $5 billion on safety and security this year “because we care about getting this right," Zuckerberg told analysts on the company’s third-quarter earnings call.

He added the company plans to make serving young adults its "north star" rather than "optimizing for older people," and the effort will take years. Zuckerberg also made a rare admission that they compete with rivals TikTok and Snapchat for the attention of young users.

Zuckerberg's comments come after documents reviewed by USA TODAY and other news organizations detail how Facebook divided people despite pledges to unify its users. The documents were part of disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and sent to Congress by Haugen.

In documents focusing on declining growth, Facebook said it is concerned about young users who use Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp "matriculating" to the main Facebook platform.

Why?

Teen use on Facebook in the US had declined by 13 percent since 2019 and is anticipated to drop 45 percent over the next two years, the internal reports show.

In one memo, a Facebook researcher said, the “aging up issue is real.”

Facebook also asked, “Are teens engaging? They continue to continue to consume. We don’t see major changes to time spent on IG, beyond a small drop driven by our redesign. That said, TT’s (TikTok) has doubled their time across all US users, and we estimate that teens spend 2-3X more time on TT than IG.”

Facebook is home to more than 2.9 billion users while Instagram — popular with a younger audience — has 1 billion users.

"The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people," Haugen told members of Congress earlier this month.

Facebook on Monday reported that it posted profits quarterly profits of nearly $9.2 billion, a 17% jump from a year ago. The company also made $29 billion in revenue for the quarter ended Sept.30, a roughly 35% increase from a year ago. The company is worth more than $900 billion.

Haugen: Safety would slow FB growth

During her Monday appearance, Haugen said employees inside Facebook have ideas about how to improve safety on the platform, but they aren't amplified because they could slow Facebook's growth.

"They don't want to lose that growth," said Haugen. "They don't want 1% shorter sessions because that's 1% less revenue."

Haugen also questioned the use of Facebook's independent Oversight Board, stating that the group faces "a defining moment."

"I hope the Oversight Board takes this moment to stand up and demand a relationship that has more transparency," Haugen said. "If Facebook can come in there and just actively mislead the Oversight Board, which is what they did, I don't know what the purpose of the Oversight Board is."

Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University professor who analyzes social media, said Haugen's disclosures before American and British lawmakers are vital.

"There’s no empirical research or study or report on how to fix Facebook. At this point what we need are whistleblowers to help confirm what researchers have seen, feel in our bones, and tried to explain, all to have been brushed aside by the company," Grygiel said.

While Facebook has dismissed Haugen's testimony, Grygiel said her comments are "key because she’s been on the inside and privy to the internal, daily conversations, chit-chat, and message board musings…It shows why more people who work for the company need to speak out, because they are the ones who have the full picture."

Haugen also disputed Facebook's recent push toward the metaverse, a new way of communicating online that combines virtual and augmented reality.

Zuckerberg and other supporters have touted the metaverse as a potential replacement for the modern internet.

Last week, Facebook announced it would hire 10,000 engineers in Europe to help build the metaverse. On Monday, the company said it was spending $10 billion on the venture as well as virtual reality and augmented reality.

Haugen also said there's "a lack of incentives to raise issues" about flaws in the Facebook system, and there are "lots of rewards for amplifying and making things grow."

"Do you know what we could have done with safety if we had 10,000 more engineers? It would be amazing,” Haugen said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Facebook CEO: Whistleblower, leaked documents paint "false picture"

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