Facebook says it’s spent over $13 billion on “safety and security” since 2016 and has 40,000 people dedicated to the area, offering a glimpse at its operations after a week of leaks published by The Wall Street Journal. The company used the numbers as an example of how it’s addressed problems on Facebook and Instagram, saying the Journal’s stories lacked “important context” about complex issues.
“In the past, we didn’t address safety and security challenges early enough in the product development process,” Facebook said in a blog post today. “But we have fundamentally changed that approach. Today, we embed teams focusing specifically on safety and security issues directly into product development teams, allowing us to address these issues during our product development process, not after it.”
The Journal alleged that Facebook knew of serious problems like false COVID-19 information and negative emotional effects on users but delayed fixing them in fear of weakening engagement with its platforms. Facebook executive Nick Clegg issued a rebuttal over the weekend, accusing the paper of “deliberate mischaracterizations of what we are trying to do.”
Much of Facebook’s new response recasts allegations from the Journal in a more positive light — focusing not on whether it acted too late, but on the ways it ultimately responded, like removing 20 million pieces of false COVID-19 and vaccination content and blocking 3 billion fake accounts in the first half of 2021.
If accurate, the new safety and security figures do offer an update on some earlier Facebook numbers. The company has apparently quadrupled its staff in that area since 2017, when it employed 10,000 people and promised to double the number within a year. (The figure includes outside contractors.)
Meanwhile, the $13 billion number backs up a 2018 statement that Facebook would devote “billions of dollars per year” to safety and security, working out to an average of more than $2 billion annually. We don’t know how that money was distributed between 2016 and 2021, but Facebook made high-profile promises about ramping up investment during 2017 and 2018, which saw scrutiny over Facebook’s role in election propaganda campaigns and the Cambridge Analytica privacy controversy — so it’s likely a lot of the spending came from recent years.