Mark Zuckerberg’s off-the-record comments to his own employees have been leaked to the press, showing how Facebook is ready to counter efforts to weaken its power.
The Verge has published excerpts of Zuckerberg’s answers at two internal Q&A sessions with Facebook employees, which reportedly took place in July, after the company reached a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy concerns that ultimately drove Facebook shares up.
The tech website has also published what it says is a full transcript of the Facebook boss’s speeches at the meetings. Facebook is yet to confirm the authenticity of the transcript and audio, which, if true, show Zuckerberg speaking in a much more casual and sometimes humorous manner than he had employed before congressmen.
On Warring with Warren
When asked whether he had concerns about Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 Democratic hopeful who wants to break up monopolies (including Facebook) to promote a more competitive market, Zuckerberg called her an “existential” threat to his company’s existence.
“There might be a political movement where people are angry at the tech companies or are worried about concentration or worried about different issues and worried that they’re not being handled well,” he was quoted as saying.
He promised that should Warren become president, Facebook would likely “have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge."
“And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. I mean, that’s not the position that you want to be in when you’re, you know, I mean … it’s like, we care about our country and want to work with our government and do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”
Warren was quick to react, saying the existing US regulations allowed Facebook to engage in “illegal anti-competitive practices” and “stomp” on privacy rights.
What would really “suck” is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy. https://t.co/rI0v55KKAi— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 1, 2019
On Rolling Out Libra
Facebook plans to launch its own cryptocurrency in 2020 in cooperation with Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and two dozen other companies, which has already come under scrutiny in the United States and raised objections in the European Union over financial stability and consumer security concerns.
According to the transcript, Zuckerberg said the company is already testing the digital coin in India and plans to run it in Mexico and some other countries by the end of 2019.
Zuckerberg said he understands that the company should address the concerns of regulators across the globe. “Part of the process is going to be public,” he continued. “The public things, I think, tend to be a little more dramatic. But a bigger part of it is private engagement with regulators around the world, and those, I think, often are more substantive and less dramatic.
“And those meetings aren’t being played for the camera, but that’s where a lot of the discussions and details get hashed out on things. So this is going to be a long road. We kind of expected this — that this is what big engagement looks like.
On Chasing TikTok
A year ago, Facebook quietly launched Lasso, a social media video app aimed to chase the Chinese-owned TikTok, which seems to be a social phenomenon in the making.
In the leaked audio, Zuckerberg revealed a strategy that could help Lasso beat TikTok: Facebook would launch its app in countries where TikTok has not gained traction, like Mexico, and then challenge it globally.
“We’re trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big,” he said.
On No-Shows at International Hearings
Zuckerberg testified before US and EU legislators last spring over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when it emerged that the organisation had been able to harvest the personal data of 87 million Facebook users.
However, the CEO has repeatedly refused to appear before a “grand committee” on disinformation and fake news, made up of representatives of seven countries, and also turned down the UK parliament’s requests to answer questions about fake news and disinformation.
“The reality on the hearings thing is, I’m not going to go to every single hearing around the world,” he told the employees. “A lot of different people want to do that. When the issues came up last year around Cambridge Analytica, I did hearings in the US. I did hearings in the EU. It just doesn’t really make sense for me to go to hearings in every single country that wants to have me show up and, frankly, doesn’t have jurisdiction to demand that.”
On Content Moderators’ Alleged Health Issues
Several reports in US media this year have painted a morbid picture of working as a Facebook content moderator – the person in charge of exploring and removing violence, pornography, or otherwise inappropriate content from the site.
The Verge has reported that content moderators working for Facebook’s contractor, Cognizant, resort to alcohol and drugs or even sex at the workplace in an attempt to handle the stress. Some of them are said to suffer from PTSD and anxiety because of the stream of graphic and offensive content they look through.
Zuckerberg asserted, however, that some of the reports are “a little overdramatic.” “From digging into them and understanding what’s going on, it’s not that most people are just looking at just terrible things all day long.”
“But there are really bad things that people have to deal with, and making sure that people get the right counselling and space and ability to take breaks and get the mental health support that they need is a really important thing. It’s something we’ve worked on for years and are always trying to probe and understand how we can do a better job to support that.”