Frances Haugen: It was through them that internal documents were sent to editorial offices
Photo: DREW ANGERER / AFP
As far as its PR work is concerned, Facebook had probably presented itself differently this week: The company will announce its latest quarterly figures on Monday evening, German time, and a conference called Facebook Connect will be held on Thursday evening, at which Mark Zuckerberg will give the keynote in person. If you believe rumors, the company boss should talk about new technologies and the so-called metaverse, i.e. Facebook's plans for the future with virtual and augmented reality. And as a surprise, a new company name is said to be announced this week.
But is the CEO's dream of being together virtually what drives Facebook users these days? Or what will the group be called in the future? Are there not completely different questions in the room? For a few weeks now, the company has been under massive pressure from a series of revelations by the Wall Street Journal. The texts were based on documents by the whistleblower Frances Haugen and provided insights into numerous internal company matters.
Facebook didn't do well with it.
The Wall Street Journal published its articles with headlines like “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic For Many Teenagers, Company Documents Show” and “Facebook Says Its Rules Apply To Everyone.
Company documents reveal a secret elite who are exempt ”.
The tenor of the revelations: Facebook knows how problematic the group's actions are, but is doing too little to change the situation.
Facebook is threatened with further disclosures for weeks
Eleven articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal so far. As it turns out, these pieces were just a kind of vanguard: Frances Haugen then made parts of the digital documents that she took from Facebook - we're talking about tens of thousands of pages of material - accessible to other editorial offices. These include the "New York Times" and CNN, but also some European media such as "Le Monde" and the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". According to the media involved, the names of some employees were blackened out in the documents sent.
Haugen wanted more than just the previous articles to appear on the basis of their documents, writes the New York Times. It was important to her to focus on countries where English is not the main language. There are now numerous other publications that Facebook would have liked to avoid.
“In the coming weeks, many stories about the leak will appear around the world,” writes the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, which summarizes seven key findings from the documents. This in turn includes the accusation that Zuckerberg lied to the public by repeatedly claiming that all Facebook users are the same - although there are exceptions for six million accounts. In addition, the newspaper emphasizes that users outside the English-speaking world are apparently less protected from false information. "Example Arabic", the article says: "Although more than 220 million users speak Arabic and thus make up the third largest group on the platforms, there is an acute lack of moderators for the various countries."
The tech magazine “The Verge” also addresses the fact that Facebook treats different countries very differently: For example, elections in Brazil, India and the USA are particularly well protected with so-called “war rooms”, while in many other countries no such special measures are in place Elections would be taken.
Other articles deal with Facebook's importance and self-image, or Facebook's handling of allegations of election fraud.
The Reuters news agency reports that some Facebook employees have warned Facebook for years that the company is doing too little against hate speech and misinformation in view of its rapid growth.
Farewell letters with serious allegations
The articles not only bring scandalous things to the public per se.
The reports also revolve around the internal communication style on Facebook: They deal with how controversies are discussed directly in internal messages, how passionately arguments are sometimes carried out within the company, while Facebook communicates very soberly to the outside world.
"The comments under the entries of employees who leave Facebook in frustration are particularly emotional," writes the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", for example.
In the documents examined, there were several farewell letters that make Facebook serious allegations - for example that the company does not listen to those who want to improve Facebook.
The new media reports are a nuisance for Facebook, especially in a week when they actually didn't want to talk about the problems in the carbon world, but about the opportunities in virtual reality. However, the revelations didn't come as a surprise to the company. Many of the media involved are likely to have requested comments on Facebook, so Mark Zuckerberg's company was warned - and recently decided to take a counter-offensive: »Currently, more than 30 journalists are working on a coordinated series of articles based on thousands of pages of leaked documents «, An official Facebook account had anticipated the research project running parallel in many places on Twitter. Facebook wrote:"A curated selection from millions of documents on Facebook can in no way be used to draw fair conclusions about us."
That sounds very defensive, but Facebook actually has to face the discussion now.
If it doesn't do that, but only lets Mark Zuckerberg rave about the Metaverse on Thursday evening, that would also be a clear statement.
Because by now, at the latest, Facebook's global problems are no longer only known internally.