Facebook VP responds to whistleblower’s claims: ‘We can’t change human nature’

Nick Clegg on Meet The Press
Last week, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen spoke to 60 Minutes and testified in front of Congress. She had worked in the civic integrity department, which was dissolved after the election, paving the way for the January 6th insurrection. Haugen handed over internal documents to the government, detailing how Facebook favored growth, profit and engagement over truth and mental health. Facebook knows that Instagram can be damaging to mental health for teens, particularly girls, and that was part of the reason they planned to put out a version for teens, which they’ve since put on hold. Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp experienced a six hour outage last Monday as well, which they claim was due to an update gone wrong. Founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued an explanation for the outage with a defensive and wordy response to Haugen. He refused to admit to any issues and claimed they’ve done everything they can, basically.

Facebook has now sent their VP of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, out to do damage control. I watched his segment on Meet The Press (here’s a link to that) and surprise – he’s an old white British man. Like Zuckerberg he doesn’t admit to any problems whatsoever and uses a “we can’t please everyone/both sides” argument. He listed off the things that Facebook has done to curb hate speech as if they haven’t been enabling white supremacy, racism, vaccine misinformation and frankly genocide for over a decade. It’s ok because they’re going to implement a “please take a break” notification like Netflix though. Here’s CNBC’s report on some of the things Clegg said on Sunday. He talked to other news outlets as well, this isn’t all from his NBC interview.

Facebook will implement new tools to divert users away from harmful content, limit political content and give parents more control on teen Instagram accounts, the company’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, told several morning news shows Sunday.

Though Clegg did not elaborate on the specifics of the tools, he told ABC’s “This Week” that one measure would urge users who are on Facebook’s platform Instagram for long periods of time to “take a break.” Another feature will nudge teens looking at content harmful to their well-being to look at something else, he said.

Clegg also said the company’s planned Instagram Kids, a service for children 13 and younger the company recently paused, is a part of the solution.

“We have no commercial incentive to do anything other than try and make sure that the experience is positive,” Clegg said. “We can’t change human nature. We always see bad things online. We can do everything we can to try to reduce and mitigate them.”

Clegg’s media appearances come in response to the Senate testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen on Tuesday. Haugen, who leaked internal Facebook documents to The Wall Street Journal and Congress, told a Senate panel that the company consistently puts its own profits over users’ health and safety.

The leaked documents spurred a series of stories by the Journal that revealed that the company is aware of several problems — including that it knows Instagram is detrimental to the mental health of teenagers — but either ignores or does not resolve them.

The company will begin sending data on content it publishes every 12 weeks to an independent audit, Clegg told ABC, because “we need to be held to account.”

As congressional leaders call for more transparency from the tech giant on user privacy, Clegg urged lawmakers to step in.

“We’re not saying this is somehow a substitution of our own responsibilities, but there are a whole bunch of things that only regulators and lawmakers can do,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone wants a private company to adjudicate on these really difficult trade-offs between free expression on one hand and moderating or removing content on the other.”

[From CNBC]

The article goes on to say that Haugen is set to speak to Facebook’s oversight board, which is a start. It’s surely not going to be adequate with a-holes like this running the company. Zuckerberg has surrounded himself with people who will uphold his vision of making boatloads of cash at the expense of humanity. He’s got the unique perspective of a privileged white man who doesn’t care about “politics” because it has never affected him.

In his Meet the Press interview, Clegg threw out numbers showing that Facebook has allegedly worked on the issue of “hate speech.” He stated that Facebook has over 40,000 employees reviewing content (watch this video for more on how that’s run, but trigger warning) and that they spent 13 billion on moderating content which is “more than Twitter’s total revenue for the last four years.” Twitter has its own issues and their new “this discussion may get heated” warnings tend to target people of color, but it’s infinitely better at not spreading deadly misinformation during a pandemic. Also, and I’m just shooting from the hip here, maybe Twitter has gauged their growth more carefully and decided not to provide a platform for hate just to make a handful of people obscenely rich.

As for the the quote in the title, Facebook can’t “change human nature,” but they can certainly predict it and not capitalize on it to the detriment of society.

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36 Responses to “Facebook VP responds to whistleblower’s claims: ‘We can’t change human nature’”

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  1. Snuffles says:

    “ “We have no commercial incentive to do anything other than try and make sure that the experience is positive”

    That says it all right there. The only thing they care about is COMMERCIAL INCENTIVES! Nothing about morals, ethics or protecting democracy! If it ain’t making them money, they don’t care.

    • Merricat says:

      +1 They are despicable.

    • LaraW” says:

      When have you ever known a tech company to care about ethics and democracy? In fact, when has a tech company ever been ethical? It’s a culture steeped in VC and making money fast by developing things “ahead of the curve” without actually considering the real world consequences.

      This is a problem endemic to Silicon Valley. They’ve gone so long thinking that tech is above politics and can’t possibly be biased because how can computers be biased? They’re only now getting a rude awakening of the real world, very political consequences of what they’ve developed.

    • Maida says:

      It’s also demonstrably FALSE that they “have no commercial incentive” to create negative experiences — stats show that inflammatory content gets shared more widely and interacted with more intensely, driving up engagement (and ad views).

      I mean, if we’ve learned nothing else from the last five years, can we please at least learn this?

    • GraceB says:

      It’s frightening how much power these tech companies have and it’s frightening how little governments are doing about it. People have known for years about the level of manipulation and harm that they are inflicting on society. They haven’t willingly changed. They just make token gestures to keep people quiet.

      Nick Clegg isn’t a man I’ve seen in the news for a while. He’s a former Lib Dem MP from the UK. I guess now we know where he ended up. Politicians always seem to land on their feet.

      • Original Penguin says:

        Not just an MP- but deputy PM under Cameron.

        Wrecked his party in search of power and allowed Cameron to gain power hence Brexit

      • iconoclast59 says:

        I thought the name sounded familiar! Thanks for jogging my memory.

  2. Lizzie Bathory says:

    I think, “there are a whole bunch of things that only regulators and lawmakers can do,” means “Mark Zuckerberg will never voluntarily agree to any measures that reduce engagement, regardless of the consequences.”

    I’m very interested in what the FB Oversight Board’s reaction is to Frances Haugen’s comments. She has said that they’ve basically been lied to for years, presumably by Mark & Sheryl.

    • LaraW” says:

      At the same time, it seems like a radical departure from their original push that the industry doesn’t need to be regulated at all. This is a complete 180. Now they’re trying to put the onus on the government so whatever happens on their platform will be directed to a government agency instead, providing a convenient way to dodge what is currently a deluge of 1A litigation. This has become a deeply politicized issue where Republicans have repeatedly claimed they’ve been suppressed by FB. It seems that FB has kind of thrown in the towel and decided the price of regulation is far less than the unending congressional hearings and QFRs.

      • Lizzie Bathory says:

        It’s definitely a departure. Once they started running pro-regulation ads on TV, I knew they were worried. I don’t think it’s 1A litigation so much as concerns about being broken up, plus Cambridge Analytica, lying to shareholders (hi, Sheryl) & misleading advertisers. So much to hide….

      • LaraW” says:

        Agree about the 1A litigation, and the bigger issue right now is the FTC’s antitrust suit they’re dealing with. But 1A is always a really hot topic for politicians (super easy to score political points with the base for Republicans) and it gains a lot of negative public attention on social media (hah!) and the press. I mean, I’m also trying to imagine their earnings statement and the section on litigation, in addition to the costs they’re running up.

  3. Katie says:

    The teen girl stuff got a lot of play because that affected more of us. But the WSJ also amply covered how the company is inadequately addressing HUMAN TRAFFICKING. These flaccid responses are unconscionable in the face of HUMAN TRAFFICKING.

  4. LillyfromLillooet says:

    God bless Frances Haugen.

  5. Merricat says:

    Maker of Poison: while it is true that too much will kill you, in small doses, this poison is fun and cool! But we will not regulate your dosage, and in fact, we will keep offering it to you in as many forms as possible.
    I did not think it was possible for me to detest Zuckerberg more. I hope he is eaten by wolves.

  6. Justwastingtime says:

    Isn’t the point that they profit the most from extreme behavior (right or left) which leads to extreme engagement from those users? He doesn’t sound credible.

  7. Emma says:

    This is just specious deflection. No one is asking anyone to “change human nature.” They have a legal obligation not to promote hate speech and human trafficking and interference with national elections. Boom, done.

    Some days I feel like the internet is really a net loss for humanity.

  8. Wiglet Watcher says:

    I’m on zero social media. The last being insta which I’ve dropped.
    My life has only improved since leaving Facebook over a decade ago. I only ever hear horror stories of fb marketplace and the general vibe of comments and posts, Fake news stories, etc…

    I highly recommend it. Leave fb.

    • Truthiness says:

      Same. I refused to join Instagram once it became Zuckerberg’s property. I really want to see a few accounts on IG but my hatred of Zuckerberg burns with the heat of a thousand suns after the 2016 election. Add to that Zuckerberg is displacing native Hawaiians on their lands.

    • Jen says:

      Same. Only just got rid of Instagram (finally) but I feel free. Highly recommended!

  9. Soni says:

    Not that I post that much on FB, and I’m not solving much by doing this, but I am deleting the app right now. The only reason I’m not going to permanently delete it is because there’s a very useful group for my local town that is a very good resource. Other than that, I’m done.

  10. Phat Girl says:

    I truly don’t understand. How is it facebooks’ responsibility to regulate what people are putting up. The internet in general is not good for young girls self esteem, neither is high school, or television. Is there really any company in America that puts the good of the people over profits? No. Why are we holding him to a higher standard than anyone else. They have given every person on facebook total control over their page. You can set your stuff to private, only interact with your “friends” and only post what you want. What more should they be responsible for? I don’t want them deciding for me what’s acceptable and what’s not. People who don’t like your candidate or religion or whatever have a right to their own posts also. There’s a sucker born every minute and people who are going to believe the stupid fake stuff people put on facebook as FACT aren’t going to get any smarter because Mark Zuckerberg gives them a warning.

    • LaraW” says:

      FB has beem trying to self regulate to prevent actual government regulation. All of this is a direct fallout of Cambridge Analytica and the Russian social media op.

      Additionally, you do not have complete control of your FB page. See: your newsfeed, ads that appear, suggestions for friends, etc.

    • Merricat says:

      There are regulations in every business for the express reason that capitalism puts profits over people.

    • Millenial says:

      Because the things that people put up on FB destabilize current and future democracies and cause literal genocides. Technology has accelerated problems humans already had, true, but it’s done so at a pace that humans are not equipped to individually self-regulate without society-level interventions.

    • Willow says:

      We don’t expect FB to regulate what people put up. What they are expected to regulate is what they put up. And that is ads and suggestions of other pages and articles. What the whistle-blower said is FB studied how to get people to stay on their platform as long as possible so they can make the most money. The results of the studys are that anger and other negative emotions keeps people on the platform longer. So on purpose they put ads, pages, articles, etc, in your newsfeed, that are negative, so you will get angry, feel terrible, and then stay on FB longer, and they make more money. And for years they have been lying and saying they were doing the opposite.

  11. Bettyrose says:

    Boys will be boys. And other equally as irrelevant commentaries on changing bad behavior.

  12. Spice cake38 says:

    They can’t change human nature…No but they are using much about human nature (see it want it now,jealousy,feelings of inadequacy bc something of someone else’s looks so wonderful,people seem to have it all together;why don’t I,algorithms drawing people in deeper and deeper into what they want to believe instead of facts,and on and on.)
    So no they are not changing human nature they are just manipulating it and exploiting the hell out of it,all for monetary gain and no concern for the effects on individuals and society.

  13. Polly says:

    I’m old enough to remember back in 2010 when Nick Clegg was trying to sell himself to the British electorate as a decent, principled man who was so different to all the other politicians at Westminster. His coalition with the Tories was apparently just a warm up act for this hideous new role. Truly a spineless weasel of a man.

  14. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    This is what I think and what I tell my kids. If you can’t do it in public, you shouldn’t be doing it online. We can’t waltz into a business, store or private building and start badgering, bullying, megaphoning conspiracies, calling people horrendous names, verbalizing and literally handing out propaganda… At best we’d be escorted out and at worst arrested. Facebook is essentially the tallest building in the busiest metropolis allowing people to storm the grounds and do and say whatever they want while management sits in the penthouse schmoozing each other, eating and drinking the days away while fist-bumping. When money is the only concern, there’s always an alpha and omega. It’s not sustainable because society has to have rules, and if you have to be told this, you have no business running a billion dollar social experiment.

  15. teehee says:

    Negative behavior generates revenues.

    “Bait” post–> clicks, comments, replies, counter-groups, counter-posts, shares, arguments, even headlines == more revenue for FB.

    They will not change the model because it is profitable.

    While it is true that you cannot change human NATURE,
    what we are talking about is human BEHAVIOR

    Which CAN indeed be shaped, limited, restricted, encouraged etc (Operant conditioning, anyone?)

    So what he says is “true”, but 100% not applicable to the situation or the problem

    It’s like saying I can’t brush my teeth more often because “we” cannot change the color of the sky.

    Notice the appeal for sympathy and co-accountability by saying “we”. It makes people less defensive because they are part of it, and are supposed to feel equally powerless– and in FB, yes, people contribute to the negativity and hence to the problem.
    So to attack FB would be to attack yourself- and no one wants to do it.

    I see you, buddy. I see you.

  16. Miss Margo says:

    I haven’t had Facebook since 2008 so….