Facebook employees say Mark Zuckerberg’s obsession with growth has overridden ethical concerns and allowed hate speech and incitements to violence to spread unchecked, internal messages leaked to media outlets show.
“History will not judge us kindly,” one staffer reportedly wrote on the day of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, which were organized partially through Facebook.
“We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control,” wrote another Facebook staffer, according to the Atlantic.
Facebook employees who had spent months raising concerns about the social media company’s engagement-obsessed algorithms pushing users toward extreme and conspiratorial content felt betrayed by a lack of action from the company, according to the report.
In August 2020, one employee working on Facebook’s “integrity” team griped that any proposed design changes that would reduce users’ exposure to extreme content like the QAnon conspiracy theory had been consistently sidelined in favor of increasing user engagement.
The employee accused the company of being “willing to act only after things had spiraled into a dire state,” according to the Atlantic.
“Personally, during the time that we hesitated, I’ve seen folks from my hometown go further and further down the rabbithole of QAnon and Covid anti-mask/anti-vax conspiracy on FB,” the employee added. “It has been painful to observe.”
Other Facebook employees, meanwhile, accused Zuckerberg of personally intervening to protect political figures who violated the company’s content moderation rules, according to the Financial Times.
In one such case in 2019, Facebook moderators took down a video that falsely said that abortions are “never medically necessary.”
After Republican politicians including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz complained about the move, Zuckerberg was personally involved with Facebook’s decision to put the video back up, according to the outlet.
Many Facebook employees also reportedly believe the company unfairly makes exceptions to its false news policy when dealing with certain publishers.
Moves to remove “repeat offenders” from Facebook were dropped after being “influenced by input from Public Policy,” an employee said in a December 2020 memo reported by the Financial Times, in reference to Facebook’s powerful Washington, DC-based arm led by former Bush administration staffer Joel Kaplan.
In particular, Facebook gives special treatment to conservative publishers including Breitbart, Diamond and Silk, Charlie Kirk and PragerU, the employee said.
Facebook did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the Atlantic and Financial Times reports.
Company spokesperson Joe Osborne told the Financial Times: “At the heart of these stories is a premise which is false. Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or wellbeing misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie. The truth is we’ve invested $13bn and have over 40,000 people to do one job: keep people safe on Facebook.”
Monday’s articles, which come on the same day Facebook is set to report third-quarter earnings, are part of a larger series of news stories based on documents leaked under embargo by whistleblower Frances Haugen.
Other documents leaked by Haugen reportedly show that Facebook has allegedly misled investors and masked slowing growth among critical demographics like young users in the US, as well as failed to crack down on human trafficking on the site.
Facebook shares were trading up 0.4 percent at $325.75 on Monday morning — but have tanked more than 15 percent since the beginning of September as Haugen has shared internal company documents with reporters and called on lawmakers to regulate the tech giant.