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Facebook whistleblower calls for Mark Zuckerberg to step down as chief

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Facebook whistleblower and former product manager Frances Haugen has urged Mark Zuckerberg to step down as company chief, saying it could be stronger with someone willing to focus on user safety at the helm.

The 37-year-old former employee, who leaked thousands of the company’s internal documents and accused Facebook of prioritising profits over people’s safety, said it was “unlikely the company will change if he [Zuckerberg] remains CEO”.

“I hope that he can see there’s so much good he can do in the world and maybe it’s a chance for someone else to take the reins. I think Facebook would be stronger with someone who is willing to focus on safety,” the whistleblower added. “My greatest hope is that Facebook will be a more successful company because we gave it some accountability.”

Speaking at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, Ms Haugen said the single most important thing to take away from the leaked documents was that the engagement-based ranking system used by Facebook to inject content into people’s news feed was “dangerous”.

“Because right now the most extreme content wins out on that foot race,” she said. “It’s like they are viral variant factories and the ones that are going to be the most extreme and polarising are the ones that get the largest audience.”

One of the major ways Facebook stood out from other social media companies like Twitter, according to Ms Haugen, is the way the organisation made decisions about what content was safe on the platform.

“At Twitter, the branch that makes decisions about what content is safe on the platform reports through a different chain than the group of people that is responsible for making sure politicians are happy. At Facebook, those organisations report to the same person,” she said.

She said it was “unconscionable” that the company was investing in engineers to build its virtual metaverse environment while the internal documents “state very clearly there need to be more resources on very basic safety systems”.

“Over and over again Facebook chooses expansion and new areas over sticking the landing on what they’ve already done,” Ms Haugen said, adding that it was “unacceptable” that the company continued to make the same mistakes.

A spokesperson to the social media giant’s parent company Meta said in a statement that Facebook is continuing to make efforts to protect its users.

“The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is simply untrue. We are on track to spend more than $5 billion on safety and security in 2021 - more than any other tech company - and have 40,000 people to do one job: keep people safe on our apps,” the statement noted.

“These past few weeks have shown how important it is to be clear about what we stand for - and that’s what we are doing by setting out our vision and responsible innovation principles for the metaverse and working with others to build it. There are complex tradeoffs involved which is why we need industry regulation,” the spokesperson added.

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