Facebook profits top $9bn after 6% increase in daily users despite a slew damaging claims from ex-employee whistleblower

  • The tech giant’s profits rose by $1.2billion from the same quarter in 2020
  • It comes amid a storm for Facebook after damning claims by Frances Haugen
  • She claims Mark Zuckerberg places profits over the safety of its users

Facebook has announced third quarter earnings of $9billion despite a series of blistering allegations from former employee turned whisleblower Frances Haugen. 

The company’s net income for the three months ending on September 31 was up from $7.8billion for the same period in 2020 thanks to a boom in online advertising.

But the financial success comes amid major backlash for the social media giant after documents leaked by Haugen claimed Mark Zuckerberg regularly placed profits over safety.

Speaking before British MPs, she said the tech firm’s algorithms help foster political dissent, contribute to mental health and emotional problems among teenagers and can lead to real-world violence in volatile regions.

Among her damning claims, it was claimed yesterday: 

  • Facebook’s algorithm prioritises hate speech by showing people content based on how much engagement it has received;  
  • Facebook is reluctant to sacrifice ‘even slithers of profit’ to prioritise online safety and ‘unquestionably’ makes online hate worse;
  • Children’s relationship with platforms like Facebook is an ‘addicts’ narrative’, with youngsters saying social media sites make them unhappy but they are unable to stop using them;
  • Facebook could tackle this problem but ‘they don’t because they know that young users are the future of the platform and the earlier they get them the sooner they get them hooked’;   
  • ‘Underinvestment’ in foreign languages means Facebook is less able to monitor content not in US English.  

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has made a number of damning claims about the tech giant

A woman using her phone under a logo of Facebook (Niall Carson/PA)

Haugen added that Instagram ‘may never be safe for 14-year-olds’ as she said the tech giant’s own research found children are turning to addicts and bullying was ‘following them into their bedrooms’. 

The data engineer went public earlier this year with thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before quitting her job in the firm’s civic integrity unit.

She spoke before British MPs yesterday where she accused Facebook of being unwilling to sacrifice ‘even a slither of profit’ for safety improvements.

Her appearance coincided with her release of a fresh trove of documents which sensationally revealed CEO Mark Zuckerberg ‘personally intervened’ to allow US right wingers to ‘say what they wanted’ on the platform. 

The memos – which have been dubbed ‘the Facebook Papers’ and comprise internal research she secretly copied while working at the firm’s ‘integrity unit’ – also revealed how bosses ignored internal complaints from staff for years to put profits first, ‘lied’ to investors and sought to shield Mr Zuckerberg from public scrutiny. 

They also show how staff complained to Facebook executives about the company’s collective failure to anticipate the January 6 riot, how staff worried about the lack of policing on hate speech, and how the product was becoming less popular among young people.

The data scientist’s appearance coincided with her release of a fresh trove of documents which sensationally revealed CEO Mark Zuckerberg ‘personally intervened’ to allow US right wingers to ‘say what they wanted’ on the platform 

Facebook says the documents have been taken out of context and are part of a ‘game of gotcha’ by the media.

As the documents emerged on Monday, Haugen told British lawmakers that she is ‘extremely concerned’ about how Facebook ranks content based on ‘engagement’, saying it fuels hate speech and extremism, particularly in non-English-speaking countries.

Some of the most damning comments were posted on January 6, the day of the Capitol riot, when staff told Zuckerberg and other executives on an internal messaging board that they blamed themselves for the violence.

‘One of the darkest days in the history of democracy and self-governance. History will not judge us kindly,’ said one worker while another said: ‘We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control’.

The mountains of crises the company has been buried with over the last few years has prompted some to demand that it rebrand and change its name.

One of its most recent disasters was a tech-driven mistake that brought its entire network down for several hours around the world, costing businesses billions and putting it into stark perspective just how much the world relies on the company to communicate.

Facebook has repeatedly resisted calls to break its products up and says it should be able to police itself.

On Monday, tech experts said the revelations from the papers show Zuckerberg’s relentless ambition.

‘Ultimately, it rests with Mark and whatever his prerogative is – and it has always been to grow, to increase his power and his reach,’ Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor who’s followed Facebook closely for years, said.

The Facebook Papers: Whistleblower’s sensational new data dump to coincide with today’s hearing  

Zuckerberg ‘personally intervened’ to allow US right wingers say ‘whatever they wanted’ 

Facebook’s boss interfered to protect political figures who violated the company’s content moderation rules, new leaked documents suggested today. In one internal note, dated December 2020, an employee claimed Facebook’s public policy team, blocked decisions to take down posts ‘when they see that they could harm powerful political actors’. In one case in 2019, Facebook moderators took down a video that falsely said that abortions are ‘never medically necessary.’ After Republican politicians including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz complained about the move, Mark Zuckerberg was personally involved with Facebook’s decision to put the video back up, according to the Financial Times. 

Apple threatened to pull Facebook from app store over fears it was being used to traffic Filipina maids

Two years ago, Apple threatened to pull Facebook and Instagram from its app store over concerns about the platform being used as a tool to trade and sell maids in the Mideast, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press. After publicly promising to crack down, Facebook acknowledged in internal documents that it was ‘under-enforcing on confirmed abusive activity’ that saw Filipina maids complaining on the social media site of being abused.

Company knew young people were going off Facebook but kept from investors 

Facebook researchers compiled a report in March for chief product officer Chris Cox, detailing concerning data that showed the site was losing popularity with teenagers and young people. One graphic showed ‘time spent’ on Facebook by US teenagers was down 16 per cent year on year, according to Bloomberg. It also revealed that young adults were spending five per cent less time on the social network. Teenagers were delaying signing up to the site and the number of new teen signups was also declining. The average age Facebook expected people to join was now as old as 24, if ever. While the popularity decline has been studied extensively within Facebook, executives have stayed mostly quiet about the concerns in public. 

Staff have reported concerns about tackling hate speech for years – while platform failed to anticipate Capitol riot 

Facebook had been warned by staff for years that it was not doing enough to police hate speech, Ms Haugen has claimed based on documents she has leaked. 

One of the problems is its AI tools do not have the capability to appropriate pick out hateful commentary, and there aren’t enough staff with the language skills to do it manually. 

Documents also suggested staff failed to anticipate the disastrous January 6 Capitol riot despite monitoring a range of individual, right-wing accounts. On an internal messaging board that day, staff said: ‘We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control’.  

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