Mark Zuckerberg So Sad Frances Haugen Made Up All Those True Things About Facebook
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded Tuesday to whistleblower Frances Haugen's congressional testimony that Facebook operates just like we all know it does. Zuckerberg's a billionaire so you'd assume he could at least afford convincing words but he did lose $6 billion in a few hours Monday. Maybe he's cutting back.
Zuckerberg's letter to his staff, which he posted on Facebook, started with, "Hey everyone: it's been quite a week," and that's funny, I guess, because it's not even Wednesday. After a brief pep talk related to Monday's total Facebook outage, he addressed Haugen's testimony (he never mentions her by name).
I'm sure many of you have found the recent coverage hard to read because it just doesn't reflect the company we know. We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being 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.
He's so concerned about his employees, who apparently thought they were working for Save the Children all this time until that nameless person started spreading disinformation through her testimony. If his employees have such sensitive eyes, it's a wonder they can spend any time on Facebook, where the most popular content remains garbage from Ben Shapiro's The Daily Wire.
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?
We're not sure which of the research programs he's talking about: presumably not the ones it disbanded, or the programs from which they cut off researchers' access. Regardless, it makes sense to us that Facebook would commit to such research so angry politicians would get off its back. Tobacco companies have often launched so-called “youth prevention campaigns" whenever they were faced with “legislation, regulation, or litigation that they know will reduce smoking." It's all smoke and mirrors. Studies even show that the programs actually encourage kids to smoke. Also, Haugen didn't just make up the notion that Facebook ignores research it finds inconvenient.
And if social media were as responsible for polarizing society as some people claim, then why are we seeing polarization increase in the US while it stays flat or declines in many countries with just as heavy use of social media around the world?
He's got us there. Is the argument here that Facebook has so far only managed to ruin America?
Zuckerberg is clearly steaming over Haugen's (correct) accusation that Facebook prioritizes profits over people. He insists that's "just not true," and he mentions how Facebook introduced the Meaningful Social Interactions change to its news feed. "Is that something a company focused on profits over people would do?" he asks? Well, yes, because as the Wall Street Journal reported last month, the MSI change happened because users were interacting less with the platform — and its result was that the site became even more toxic. It's as if he's gaslighting his own staff, the very people who noticed and raised this issue.
The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit 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.
Zuckerberg's Vulcan response is insulting and misleading. He's also leaning hard on “deliberately," whereas Facebook merely creates a system that incentives divisive content. A scary revelation was that some European political parties admitted that Facebook's algorithm encouraged them to alter their policy positions so they'd pop more on the platform.
Advertisers probably don't specifically ask that their ads appear next to garbage content, but they also want the most eyeballs possible viewing their ads. “Harmful or angry content" is obviously subjective, as conservative blogger Matt Walsh's 10-minute ageist screed about Madonna's appearance (no, we're not linking) at the VMAs received 1.6 million views and almost 3,000 “likes."
“We make money from ads" is a facile observation because advertisers won't pay Facebook much to run their ads next to content people quickly scroll past. Engagement is the money-maker, and the evidence is clear that negative content, especially political, is more often viewed and shared on social media. Fred Rogers wouldn't have thrived on Facebook.
Zuckerberg ended his self-serving post with the following twaddle:
When I reflect on our work, I think about the real impact we have on the world — the people who can now stay in touch with their loved ones, create opportunities to support themselves, and find community. This is why billions of people love our products.
Billions of people are dependent on Facebook, especially during a period where physical interaction is less safe. This doesn't mean that Facebook itself is an honorable organization. It's OK to admit that in 2021, our society might need social media. That doesn't mean we need Facebook or Mark Zuckerberg.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."