Addressing “the recent debate around our company,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave not an inch on Monday, saying, “what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture.”
Kicking off a conference call with financial analysts after quarterly earnings, Zuckerberg addressed the elephant in the room — weeks of devastating stories based largely but not solely on documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen. The common thread is the social media giant’s various corrosive impacts on society (from teen girls’ body image to the Jan. 6 insurrection) for the sake of profit, and that it knows but won’t make needed fixes.
“The reality is that we have an open culture where we encourage discussion and research about our work,” Zuckerberg insisted. “We have industry leading programs to study the effects of our products and provide transparency on our progress because we care about getting things right.” He cited the quarterly disclosure reports and an Oversight Committee the company set up.
Facebook’s choices are not about profit, he added, but about balancing competing social values – like free expression and reducing harmful content, or enabling interoperability with locking down data. “It makes a great sound bite to say we don’t solve these impossible tradeoffs because we just focus on making money.”
“I have repeatedly called for regulation to provide clarity because I do not believe companies should be responsible for making so many of those decisions themselves,” he said.
Polarization started well before Facebook. Facebook didn’t cause it, and Facebook can’t solve it, he said.
“We can’t change the underlying media dynamic, but there is a different constituency I serve, and that is people.”
Analysts on the call actually didn’t ask much about the controversy swirling around the company, focusing on advertising and on the gradually rollout of Zuckerberg’s new vision, the “Metaverse,” a kind of experiential social media powered by AR and VR that the company will invest about $10 billion in it this year. It wont’ be a viable business proposition for years. He first spoke about at length at the previous call in July, calling it “the ultimate expression of social technology” and something he’s “dreamed of building since way before I started Facebook that’s only starting to come into focus now.”
Pundits have noted that the criticism swirling around Facebook will only really hit the company or matter to Wall Street if it starts to impact advertising, and that doesn’t seem to be the case, or if regulators or Congress really steps in, which appears easier than done. There’s bipartisan acknowledgment of a problem, but no agreement on how to fix it.
Facebook also announced today a massive $50 billion increase to its stock buyback program, plans that investors love. Facebook posted earnings after market close and the shares are up 1.4% in after-hours trading.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.