Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the company's record on Monday after a group of 17 U.S. media outlets, including FOX Business, began reporting on a trove of documents and disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission from former product manager turned whistleblower Frances Haugen. The Facebook Papers, which are in a redacted form, were obtained through a congressional source.
"Good faith criticism helps us get better, but my view is what we are seeing here is a coordinated effort to selectively use the leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company," Zuckerberg told analysts on the company's third quarter earnings call. "The reality is that we have an open culture where we encourage discussion and research on our work so we can make progress on many complex issues that are not specific to just us. We have industry-leading programs to study the effects of our products and provide transparency to our progress because we care about getting this right. When we make decisions, we need to balance competing with social equity, like free expression with reducing harmful content or enabling strong, encrypted privacy with supporting law enforcement or enabling research and interoperability with locking down data as much as possible."
The Facebook Papers, which cover a range of issues including misinformation and Instagram's impact on teens, have come in the wake of Haugen's scathing testimony before lawmakers in the UK and U.S. They paint a picture that the company prioritizes profits over user safety. Many of the documents obtained by the media consortium were also given to the Wall Street Journal, who first issued a series of reports on the company's inner workings called the Facebook Files.
FOX Business reported that one unidentified employee in an internal group known as "Let's Fix Facebook" claimed in 2018 that the company has "often resorted to aggressive tactics in the name of growth" and "been pretty unapologetic about it."
"Many employees have called out these tactics as hostile and disrespectful to our users, and the response has generally been, that our care metrics weren't moved [in other words we could get away with them]," the post adds. "Today, the light has changed and all these tactics are being subject to the highest level of scrutiny fueling the narrative that Facebook seeks profits by exploiting its users."
Zuckerberg argued that the issues raised "aren't primarily about social media" and that "no matter what Facebook does, we’re never going to solve them on our own."
"It makes a good sound bite to say that we don't solve these impossible tradeoffs because we're just focused on making money. But the reality is these questions are not primarily about our business, but about balancing different, difficult social values. And I repeatedly called for regulation to provide clarity because I don't think companies should be making so many of these decisions ourselves," he emphasized. "I'm proud of our record navigating the complex tradeoffs involved in operating the services at global scale, and I'm proud of the research and transparency we bring to our work."
According to Zuckerberg, Facebook has made massive investments in safety and security with a team of more than 40,000 people. He estimates that the company is on track to spend more than $5 billion on safety and security in 2021.
Shares of Facebook have appeared to shrug off the controversy as the social media giant reported $29 billion in revenue for the third quarter, up 33% from the same period a year earlier. The company posted $9.2 billion in net income, up 17% from the year prior. The number of people using Facebook's family of apps grew 12% year-over-year to nearly 3.6 billion.
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Looking ahead, Zuckerberg teased that the company would put more focus on its creators, commerce, and building the metaverse, a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with each other in a computer-generated environment. Beginning in the fourth quarter, Facebook Reality Labs, a division focused on the company's augmented and virtual reality services, will become a separate reporting segment from the rest of the company's family of apps, such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and its namesake platform.
He also said that Facebook would retool its teams to make serving young adults ages 18 to 29 its "North Star." The transition, which comes in response to the rising popularity of competitors TikTok and Snapchat, is expected to take "years, not months" and is expected to result in slower growth for the rest of Facebook's community.
In addition, Facebook executives warned that changes to iOS 14 and macroeconomic and COVID-related factors could create "continued headwinds" and that non-ad revenue is expected to be down in the fourth quarter on a year-over-year basis. Facebook expects total fourth quarter revenue in the range of $30.15 billion to $34 billion.