In a message to Facebook employees, Mark Zuckerberg defended his firm, stating that recent accusations by an ex-employee concerning the social network’s harmful impacts on society “don’t make any sense.”
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, testified in front of Congress on Tuesday about a trove of internal papers she supplied to The Wall Street Journal.
The hearing’s main focus was on Facebook’s own research showing that Instagram can have a detrimental impact on young people, but Haugen used the occasion to criticize the company’s revenue strategy and News Feed algorithm as well.
One of her key points was that Facebook’s business model of selling advertising based on user interaction forces the company to keep people on the platform at all costs, even when the material they’re interacting with is detrimental.
“The idea that we purposefully push stuff that enrages people for business is profoundly illogical,” Zuckerberg said in the message, which he also shared on his public Facebook page. “Advertisers routinely tell us they don’t want their advertising next to damaging or angry content, therefore we generate money from adverts. And I’m not aware of any digital firm that aims to create things that make people angry or depressed. All of the moral, commercial, and product incentives are pointing in the wrong direction.”
Until now, Zuckerberg has remained conspicuously mute about Haugen and the internal papers she shared with The Wall Street Journal. He released a video of himself sailing on Sunday, the same day she disclosed her name on 60 Minutes, which legislators subsequently used as proof that he was trying to evade attention.
The same committee to which Haugen testified requested Zuckerberg’s testimony, but he didn’t mention it in his 1,300-word response. He didn’t mention Haugen by name, as with Facebook’s previous remarks.
He mentioned her allegation before Congress that a 2018 News Feed update that prioritized “Meaningful Social Interactions” actually encouraged the sharing of more nasty and divisive content.
He claimed it was done to encourage greater content sharing between friends and family, and that Facebook understood it would lead to lower engagement, echoing his remarks at the time of the move. “Does it sound like something a profit-driven firm would do?”
The major focus of Tuesday’s meeting was Facebook’s internal study regarding Instagram’s harmful impacts on adolescents, which has ignited outrage and prompted requests for the firm to share more data for independent experts to review. In a message to workers, Zuckerberg stated that the firm will continue to do research and seek to make more of it available to the public.
You can read Mark Zuckerberg’s full statement here.