Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, sounding irritated about his company’s latest PR crisis, insisted that issues like misinformation and political polarization are not “primarily about social media” — and he complained about a raft of critical articles published in recent days based on internal documents leaked by ex-employees.
Meanwhile, also on the social giant’s third-quarter earnings call, Zuckerberg said Facebook is investing about $10 billion this year in its “metaverse” strategy, including in its Oculus VR products, smart glasses and ecommerce initiatives.
In his remarks to analysts, Zuckerberg claimed he welcomed scrutiny of Facebook. “I believe large organizations should be scrutinized and I’d much rather live in a society where they are than [in] one where they can’t be,” he said. “But my view is that what we’re seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.”
He was referring to a new stream of articles critical of Facebook, based on documents dubbed “The Facebook Papers,” which were obtained by a consortium of 17 U.S. news organizations including the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg and CNN. The media orgs obtained the documents through a lawyer for ex-employee Frances Haugen, who had filed them with the SEC and provided redacted versions to Congress. According to multiple reports based on the documents, senior Facebook execs have repeatedly ignored or downplayed employee concerns about misinformation and other harmful content.
On the Q3 call, Zuckerberg said Facebook makes content-moderation decisions by balancing “competing social equities,” like protecting free expression versus reducing harmful content. “It makes a good sound bite to say that we don’t solve these impossible tradeoffs because we’re just focused on making money,” Zuckerberg said, alluding to allegations by whistleblower Frances Haugen. “But the reality is, these questions are not primarily about our business but about balancing difficult social values.”
Zuckerberg repeated Facebook talking points that the company now has more than 40,000 employees dedicated to safety and security and that the company plans to spend more than $5 billion on safety and security in 2021 — which is more money, he claimed, than any other tech company.
“I’m proud of our record navigating the complex tradeoffs involved in operating services at global scale, and I’m proud of the research and transparency we bring to our work,” the CEO said. “I think that any honest account of how we’ve handled these issues should take [that] into account.”
Zuckerberg also argued that Facebook and other social media networks aren’t the primary reasons for the rise of ills like rampant misinformation and hate speech. Political “polarization started rising in the U.S. before I was born,” he said.
Facebook fell short of Wall Street’s Q3 revenue expectations, citing primarily Apple’s change with iOS 14.5 to require users to opt-in for ad tracking, and the company forecast slower growth for Q4 as well.
Zuckerberg touched on Facebook’s “metaverse” strategy, saying its core mission is “delivering a sense of presence, like you’re right there with another person — that’s the holy grail of online social experiences.” Building up its ecommerce business, he added, “should reduce our dependence on delivering our services through competitors” — a clear reference to Apple and Google. Zuckerberg said he’ll discuss the metaverse strategy at the Facebook Connect conference this Thursday.
As perhaps part of Facebook’s reported plans to change its corporate name, the company said that starting with the fourth quarter, it will adopt a new financial reporting segment structure with two reportable segments: Family of Apps (FoA), which includes Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and other services; and Facebook Reality Labs (FRL), which includes augmented and virtual reality related consumer hardware, software and content.
Zuckerberg also told investors that Facebook is “retooling our teams to make serving young adults their North Star, rather than optimizing for the larger number of older people.” The shift to cater to adults 18-29 “will take years, not months, to fully execute, and I think it’s the right approach to building our community and company for the long term,” he said.
One reason Facebook wants to age-down its apps is because of the rapid rise of TikTok, the youth-skewing short-video app that now counts more than 1 billion monthly active users. According to Zuckerberg, TikTok “is one of the most effective competitors that we have ever faced.”