Facebook staff in uproar over top exec's leaked memo

Some Facebook staff have questioned whether the company has been transparent enough with its users and with journalists, and many are concerned over what might leak next and are deleting old comments or messages that might come across as controversia
Some Facebook staff have questioned whether the company has been transparent enough with its users and with journalists, and many are concerned over what might leak next and are deleting old comments or messages that might come across as controversial or newsworthy, said two employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Fallout growing as they call on internal message boards for hunt to find those who leak to media, amid other concerns

SAN FRANCISCO • Facebook employees are in an uproar after a leaked 2016 memo from a top executive defended the social network's growth at any cost - even if it caused deaths from a terrorist attack that was organised on the platform.

In the memo, Mr Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice-president, wrote: "Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies.

"Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.

"That's why all the work we do in growth is justified," Mr Bosworth wrote. "All the questionable contact importing practices. All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in. The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it."

Mr Bosworth and Facebook's chief executive, Mr Mark Zuckerberg, have since disavowed the memo, which was published on Thursday by BuzzFeed News.

"Boz is a talented leader who says many provocative things," Mr Zuckerberg said in a statement, using Mr Bosworth's nickname. "This was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly. We've never believed the ends justify the means."

Mr Bosworth, who oversaw Facebook's advertising and business platform at the time and is now in charge of the company's virtual reality department, has acknowledged writing the message but said he intended only to start a debate.

STARTING A DEBATE

Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people. The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good. That's why all the work we do in growth is justified.

MR ANDREW BOSWORTH, a Facebook vice-president, who has acknowledged writing the message but said he intended only to start a debate.

But the fallout at the Silicon Valley company has been wide. According to two Facebook employees, workers have been calling on internal message boards for a hunt to find those who leak to the media.

Some have questioned whether Facebook has been transparent enough with its users and with journalists, said the employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

BEING PROVOCATIVE

Boz is a talented leader who says many provocative things. This was one that most people at Facebook including myself disagreed with strongly. We've never believed the ends justify the means.

MR MARK ZUCKERBERG, Facebook chief executive, using Mr Bosworth's nickname, while defending the man.

Many are also concerned over what might leak next and are deleting old comments or messages that might come across as controversial or newsworthy, they said.

Copies of internal responses at Facebook published by The Verge website showed many employees were angry or upset over the Bosworth memo, but that some defended the executive.

The brouhaha follows a period of intense scrutiny for Facebook and questions over what its responsibilities are to its more than 2.2 billion users. The company has been grappling this month with revelations that a British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, improperly harvested data from 50 million of the social network's users.

Mr Zuckerberg has since been on an apology tour over data privacy and is expected to testify before lawmakers in Washington.

BuzzFeed noted that the memo was written almost immediately after a man was shot to death while streaming live video of himself with Facebook Live, and a few days before a Palestinian teenager was accused of killing an Israeli girl after praising terrorists on Facebook.

These deaths were a prelude to a string of other gruesome and violent incidents that appeared in videos and live streams on the social network.

The Verge reported that Mr Bosworth deleted the 2016 memo after learning it had been obtained by reporters this week and then wrote a new memo to employees in which he complained about the initial leak.

"If we have to live in fear that even our bad ideas will be exposed, then we won't explore them or understand them as such," Mr Bosworth wrote, according to the Verge. "We run a much greater risk of stumbling on them later."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 01, 2018, with the headline 'Facebook staff in uproar over top exec's leaked memo'. Print Edition | Subscribe