Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen said Monday she believes the company would be “stronger” if founder Mark Zuckerberg stepped down as chief executive.
“I think it is unlikely the company will change if he remains CEO,” she said during an on-stage interview at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon. “I hope that he can see that there’s so much good he can do in the world, and maybe it’s a chance for somebody else to take the reins.”
Haugen added: “I think Facebook would be stronger with someone who was willing to focus on safety.”
Haugen set off the latest firestorm around Facebook (FB) — which changed its corporate name last week to Meta — when she leaked tens of thousands of pages of internal company documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission, lawmakers and the Wall Street Journal. Last month, a consortium of news organizations, including CNN, also obtained the documents, now known as the “Facebook (FB) Papers,” and published scores of articles.
The documents provide the deepest look yet at many of the company’s biggest problems, including how hate speech and misinformation are amplified on the platform, how coordinated groups are able to use its apps to cause real-world violence and harm, and how its lack of non-English language capabilities has endangered users in politically unstable parts of the world.
For its part, Facebook-turned-Meta has repeatedly pushed back on Haugen’s claims and said the documents she leaked provide a skewed image of the company’s research and efforts.
“At the heart of these stories is a premise which is false. Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or wellbeing misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told CNN in a statement last month. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this article.
Lawmakers have asked Zuckerberg to testify before Congress, and some tech safety advocates have called for a leadership change at the social media giant. However, it doesn’t appear Zuckerberg is planning to step down anytime soon.
Instead, Zuckerberg announced the new name in a somewhat bizarre, highly animated event last week intended to tout the company’s ambitious plans for the “metaverse” and perhaps turn the page from the PR crises sparked by Haugen and the documents. The metaverse refers to efforts by Facebook and other companies to combine virtual and augmented reality technologies in a new online realm.
Shortly after the announcement, Zuckerberg’s job title on his personal Facebook page changed to: “Founder and CEO at Meta.”
Asked by The Verge after the announcement if he would remain CEO at Facebook/Meta in the next five years, Zuckerberg said: “Probably. I don’t have a specific date how long I want to be doing this for. I guess what I could say is I’m very excited about the next chapter of what we’re doing.”
Last month, Facebook said it would hire 10,000 people in the European Union to help build the metaverse. During the interview Monday, Haugen criticized the move and called the company’s plans to invest in the metaverse before solving its real-world safety problems “unconscionable.”
“Over and over again, Facebook chooses expansion in new areas over sticking the landing on what they’ve already done,” she said. “As you read through the documents it states very clearly that there needs to be more resources on very basic safety systems. And instead of investing in making sure that their platforms are a minimal level of safe, they’re about to invest 10,000 engineers in video games. And I can’t imagine how this makes sense.”
Meta spokesperson Joe Osborne called Haugen’s comment “a ludicrous comparison and a false choice.”
“It is not as though a company can only build new technology or invest in keeping people safe,” Obsorne said in a statement to CNN Business. “Obviously, we can and must do both of these things at the same time - and we are.”