Mark Zuckerberg broke his (relative) silence about Facebook's cascading scandals Tuesday. In a long Facebook post, he dismissed recent allegations about the company's own internal research as "mischaracterizations" that paint a "false picture" of Facebook's work. Though he didn't mention her by name, Zuckerberg's comments followed Senate testimony by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen earlier in the day.
"It's difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives," Zuckerberg wrote in the post, which he also shared with Facebook employees. "At the most basic level, I think most of us just don't recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted."
That picture is one of a company that has, as Haugen put it throughout her testimony, consistently chosen growth and profit above all else. "The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats, and more combat," Haugen said in her opening remarks. "In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people."
Zuckerberg dismissed those allegations entirely. "At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being. That's just not true," Zuckerberg wrote. He argued, for instance, that the company's much-debated decision to emphasize so-called Meaningful Social Interactions — which is to say, posts from friends and family, over viral posts — meant that "people spent less time on Facebook."
"Is that something a company focused on profits over people would do?" Zuckerberg wrote.
The full-throated refutation of Haugen's allegations and subsequent media coverage is an abrupt about-face from the sort of apology tours Zuckerberg has gone on amid past scandals, where he has insisted the company has more work to do and vowed to do better. This time, the CEO turned the tables on Congress, insisting only lawmakers can answer the questions that need to be answered to protect kids online, in light of reporting on Instagram's impact on teens' mental health.
"We're committed to doing the best work we can, but at some level the right body to assess tradeoffs between social equities is our democratically elected Congress," Zuckerberg wrote. "For example, what is the right age for teens to be able to use internet services? How should internet services verify people's ages? And how should companies balance teens' privacy while giving parents visibility into their activity?"
He also argued the way Facebook's research has been covered sends the wrong message to other tech companies. "If we attack organizations making an effort to study their impact on the world, we're effectively sending the message that it's safer not to look at all, in case you find something that could be held against you," he wrote. "That's the conclusion other companies seem to have reached, and I think that leads to a place that would be far worse for society."
Haugen's testimony Tuesday came just one day after the worst Facebook outage in recent memory, which Zuckerberg also tried to spin in a positive light, writing, "This was also a reminder of how much our work matters to people."