Facebook has taken the unusual step of directly responding to a former employee who recently excoriated the biggest social networks for “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” And the company’s retort might surprise some people. Facebook isn’t outright dismissing or rejecting the claims of Chamath Palihapitiya, its former vice president of user growth. Instead, the underlining message seems to be that the Facebook of today is a far cry from the company he once worked for, and his perceptions are out-of-date.
“Chamath has not been at Facebook for over six years,” a company spokesperson said. “When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then and as we have grown we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too.”
Facebook points to its “work and research with outside experts and academics” to get a better grasp on the effects that come with our attachment to social media, which for many people has only grown more deep-seated and compulsive with time. The company claims it uses those learnings throughout the product development process. “We are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made,” Facebook says.
In November, CEO Mark Zuckerberg tried to unequivocally stress that point by telling investors “I’m dead serious about this. Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profit.” The company has pledged to devote more resources towards combatting false news dissemination and other misuses of its platform. 1.3 billion people use Facebook every day.
Palihapitiya’s critical remarks drew immediate and widespread attention in the media and were printed on the front page of the UK’s Daily Mail. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said. The former Facebook VP, who worked for the company between 2007 and 2011, urged people to consider a “hard break” from social media.
“No civil discourse, no cooperation. Misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads,” Palihapitiya said. “This is a global problem.” He later attempted to balance his denunciation of social media by adding that Facebook “overwhelmingly does good in the world.”
Facebook’s entire reply follows below.
Chamath has not been at Facebook for over six years. When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then and as we have grown we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too. We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We’ve done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we’re using it to inform our product development. We are also making significant investments more in people, technology, and processes, and — as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call — we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.