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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg strikes back at media coverage and Apple

October 25, 2021, 11:49 PM UTC

Under siege over unflattering news articles about his company, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg lashed out at the media and pointed the finger at Apple, which he described as the tech industry’s true villain.

“Good faith criticism helps us get better,” Zuckerberg said. “But my view is that what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.”

Speaking during Facebook’s third-quarter earnings call with analysts on Monday, Zuckerberg addressed the recent torrent of negative Facebook stories, based on internal corporate research leaked by whistleblower France Haugen to the media and lawmakers. He argued that the documents, and the reporting about them, don’t accurately portray his social media giant.  

The articles showed how Facebook routinely downplays its own internal research about societal harms caused by its products, and that it fails to address those problems because any significant remedies could stall its growth.

Zuckerberg disputed those characterizations, saying, “The reality is that we have an open culture, where we encourage discussion and research on our work so we can make progress on many complex issues that are not specific to just us.”

He said that Facebook makes many tough decisions that often involve tradeoffs between competing ideals, like allowing free expression on its service or reducing harmful content. Another fraught choice is whether to enable strong encryption to protect user privacy versus leaving communications less protected so that law enforcement can get access during investigations, he said.

“It makes a good soundbite to say that we don’t solve these impossible tradeoffs because we’re just focused on making money, but the reality is these questions are not primarily about our business, but about balancing different, difficult social values,” Zuckerberg said.

Countering criticism that Facebook allows inflammatory and violent content to drive growth, he said that “polarization started rising in the U.S. before I was born” and that “the reality is that social media is not the main driver of these issues, and probably can’t fix them by itself, either.”

Zuckerberg also took aim at Apple, which recently made privacy changes that require companies to get permission from users of iOS devices before collecting personal data about their online behavior. The changes hurt companies like Facebook, which depend on tracking users to be able to show them more relevant ads.

But Zuckerberg put greater emphasis on how Apple’s privacy tweak hurt, as he put it, “millions of small businesses in what is already a difficult time for them in the economy.” It’s an argument he has used before in trying to increase pressure on lawmakers and regulators to go after the iPhone maker.

Although not under quite as much pressure as Facebook, Apple is struggling with its own bad press and political scrutiny about alleged anti-competitive behavior. Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg also piled on Apple during the call, saying that Apple’s privacy changes has caused “major challenges for small businesses and advantaged Apple’s own advertising business.” 

Zuckerberg also talked about Facebook’s interest in developing a so-called metaverse, a digital world enhanced by virtual reality, augmented reality, and even holograms. Facebook’s goal is for one billion people to regularly use its metaverse-related services, which are still years away from reality, he explained. The company hopes that the metaverse will one day generate “hundreds of billions of dollars in digital commerce,” Zuckerberg said. But he gave no concrete timeframe for that bonanza.

In the third quarter, Facebook said it brought in $29 billion in sales, slightly below analyst expectations of $29.6 billion. Meanwhile, third-quarter profits grew 17% year over year to $9.2 billion.

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