Meta Platforms Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg rejected requests from his top leadership in 2021 to expand teams overseeing child safety and well-being, according to documents and emails released by Congress.
A proposal to add headcount for well-being efforts was sent to Zuckerberg by Nick Clegg, then vice president of global affairs, in August of that year. Clegg asked to hire 45 more employees at the company, then known as Facebook Inc., to work on child safety, including efforts against bullying, harassment and self-harm.
“From a policy perspective, this work has become increasingly urgent over recent months,” Clegg wrote in an email to Zuckerberg. “Politicians in the US, UK, EU and Australia are publicly and privately expressing concerns about the impact of our products on young people’s mental health.”
Leaders at the company, including senior product executive Naomi Gleit, Chief Product Officer Chris Cox and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, backed the plan for more well-being employees, according to the emails released by the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of a hearing Wednesday about online child safety.
Clegg’s August 2021 request wasn’t approved. A follow-up email he sent Zuckerberg in November 2021 included a revised and smaller headcount proposal, acknowledging the original plea for more employees “was not funded.”
Just a few weeks after Clegg’s August 2021 proposal, the Wall Street Journal released a series of stories about the company known as “The Facebook Files.” The stories used internal documents to show that the company knew its products could lead to harmful effects for some people, including teenage girls who used its photo-sharing app, Instagram.
A Meta spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify Wednesday about the impact of Meta’s social networking apps on children. The documents will most certainly be a focus for lawmakers, who have been critical of Meta’s effect on teens. The company emails were given to the committee in response to a letter sent by lawmakers to Meta that asked for documents related to the company’s research on the mental and physical health harms associated with its products.
The committee didn’t release any emails from Zuckerberg responding to Clegg’s proposals.
Clegg appeared to hint at the stories in his November email to the CEO, noting that the topic of well-being and user safety had taken on a new level of urgency. “This work & narrative has of course become a more critical focal point for policymakers, regulators, et al in recent weeks — this is not likely to diminish going forward,” he said.
“I am supportive of this and will follow up,” Sandberg wrote in response to Clegg. “As you know, we have overall budgeting issues across the board so no promise on what will happen.”
The documents and emails released by the committee don’t specify whether Meta hired more people in response to Clegg’s November request.
Clegg’s proposal to expand the team working on well-being efforts came during a year in which the company added more than 13,000 new jobs — an increase of 23%. Facebook changed its name to Meta Platforms Inc. in October 2021.
The company has faced significant pushback for years on its child safety practices from whistleblowers, lawmakers and parents. Last October, more than 30 states filed a lawsuit against Meta alleging its social media apps were feeding harmful content to youth.
Zuckerberg, according to prepared testimony, will focus on the positive impacts of Instagram and Facebook apps, while emphasizing the company’s safety features. Meta has about 40,000 people currently working on safety and security, and has spent more than $20 billion on those efforts since 2016, according to a transcript of his remarks released in advance of the hearing.
Top photo: Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Meta Platforms Inc., during the Meta Connect event in Menlo Park, California, US, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. Meta Platforms Inc. introduced its latest lineup of head-worn devices, staking fresh claim to the virtual and augmented-reality industry just ahead of Apple Inc. pushing into the market.
Copyright 2024 Bloomberg.
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