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Facebook announces European hiring spree as regulatory scrutiny intensifies

October 18, 2021, 10:13 AM UTC

Facebook has announced plans to create 10,000 jobs in Europe over the next five years to help build the “metaverse,” a combination of virtual and augmented reality technologies that will blur the line between digital experiences and ones in the physical world.

The social media company has made a big bet that the metaverse will be the next big thing in tech. It recently unveiled a pair of camera-enabled “smart” Ray-Ban glasses, that incorporate the ability to record video of what the wearer is seeing, as a first step toward more augmented reality applications, and is developing a wristband that picks up nerve signals, allowing the wearer to control software through small gestures, or even by just thinking about certain arm and hand movements. The company also owns virtual reality headset brand Oculus.

Facebook said the jobs would be “high skilled” and, according to a company spokesperson, include positions in “engineering, product, and associated business functions across teams such as Facebook Reality Labs, Facebook A.I., and others.”

The announcement of the new positions in Europe come mere days before whistleblower Frances Haugen is due to brief lawmakers in the U.K. concerning her allegations that the social media company has turned a blind eye to evidence of the harmful effects of its products rather than take steps that might reduce its advertising revenue. She is also due to give testimony early next month before European Union officials. Facebook is already facing probes in Europe for violations of data privacy and antitrust laws as well as the prospect of a further regulatory crackdown for its failure to police hate speech and disinformation on its social media platforms.

But Nicola Mendelsohn, the vice president of Facebook’s global business group, a top advertising position within the company, told Fortune that the company’s jobs announcement was not an attempt to curry favor with European politicians. “This is an ongoing part of the investments that we have already made in Europe,” she said. “Europe has extraordinary universities, and it is a fantastic place to invest. It has top talent.” She noted that the company already has a major lab in Cork, Ireland, working on virtual and augmented reality. It also has a major artificial intelligence research lab in Paris.

Let’s hear it for EU regulation

Nick Clegg, the former U.K. deputy prime minister who is now Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, said in a statement that the company was also choosing to put these new jobs in Europe specifically because the region is leading the globe in digital regulation, particularly in areas like data privacy. “European policymakers are leading the way in helping to embed European values like free expression, privacy, transparency, and the rights of individuals into the day-to-day workings of the internet,” he said. “Facebook shares these values, and we have taken considerable action over the years to uphold them.”

Meanwhile, Mendelsohn, an eight-year veteran of the social media giant, said that the impression of the company created by the information Haugen has given to the media and to lawmakers in the U.S. is not accurate. “We don’t put profit over safety,” she said. “We don’t have moral imperatives and business pulling in opposite directions.”

She said that she believes Facebook remains “a force for good,” and pointed to the way the company’s products helped families and friends stay connected during the pandemic, when social distancing rules and travel restrictions often made in-person contact impossible. She also said she was proud of the way the company had enabled many small businesses to reach customers and continue to operate when their physical locations had to be closed owing to pandemic lockdowns.

She said that while she has fielded calls with advertisers concerned about Haugen’s allegations, that these conversations have been “thoughtful and considered” and that most advertisers have acknowledged the progress Facebook has made in attempting to rid its platforms of hate speech, terrorist propaganda, and disinformation.

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