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Facebook (Meta) Stock: Safety, Privacy, and What to Watch in 2022

Mark Zuckerberg's company has a huge audience but it faces a challenging year as it deals with the fallout from its whistleblower scandal.

Facebook, or Meta (FB) - Get Meta Platforms Inc. Class A Report as the company has rebranded itself, has a massive audience. The company has "almost 3.6 billion people who actively use one or more of our services," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the company's most recent earnings call.

But, as Spider-Man's Uncle Ben said, "with great power comes great responsibility." Facebook has great power, but it has often struggled with behaving with great responsibility.

The company ends the year with some exciting opportunities ahead and a bold plan to reshape its brand. Zuckerberg and company, however, do that under an increasing cloud of scrutiny.

What Did Facebook Know?

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testified in the U.S. Senate and she was not kind to her one-time employer. She told Congress that the company chose to prioritize growth over keeping people safe on its platforms and she shared internal data that suggested that Facebook knows that some of its products caused harm.

"The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats, and more combat. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual
violence that harms and even kills people," Haugen testified, NPR reported.

Haugen copied thousands of pages of internal documents before she left Facebook. Many of those were later published by The Wall Street Journal.

"During my time at Facebook, I came to realize a devastating truth: Almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook," Haugen told Congress. "The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the U.S. government, and from governments around the world."

Facebook's Zuckerberg Responds

Zuckerberg has never been a great spokesperson for his company, but he did try to address its problems head-on during its last earnings call of the 2021 calendar year.

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Before we get to our product update, I want to discuss the recent debate around our company. I believe large organizations should be [inaudible], so I'd much rather live in a society where they are than one where they can't be. Good criticism helps us get better, but my view is that what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.

He also tried to address and explain the steps the company has taken to make its products safer for customers.

The reality is that we have an open culture where we encourage discussion and research about our work so we can make progress on many complex issues that are not specific to just us. We have an industry-leading program to study the effects of our products and provide transparency to our progress because we care about getting this right. When we make decisions, we need to balance competing social equities. Like free expression with reducing harmful content or enabling strong encrypted privacy with supporting law enforcement or enabling research and interoperability with blocking down data as much as possible.

The CEO does lay out the enormity of the problem, but he also made a strong effort to defend his choices. He did, however, call for guidance from the government, if not outright regulation.

It makes a good soundbite to say that we don't solve these impossible trade-offs because we're just focused on making money. But the reality is these questions are not primarily about our business but about balancing different difficult social values. And I repeatedly called for regulations to provide clarity because I don't think companies should be making so many of these decisions ourselves. I am proud of our record navigating the complex trade-offs involved in offering services at a global scale, and I'm proud of the research and transparency we bring to our work.

Zuckerberg also laid out how Facebook has been investing in keeping its customers safe and making its various apps -- which include Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook -- more secure environments.

Our programs are industry-leading. We have made massive investments in safety and security with more than 40,000 people and we are on track to spend more than $5 billion on safety and security in 2021. I believe that's more than any other tech company, even adjusted for scale. We set the standard for transparency with our quarterly enforcement reports and tools like Ad Archive.

We established a new model for independent academic researchers to safely access data. We pioneered the oversight board as a model of self-regulation. And as a result, we believe that our systems are the most effective at reducing harmful content across the industry, and I think that any honest accounts of how we handle these issues should include that. I also think that any honest account should be clear that these issues aren't primarily about social media.

The challenge for Facebook is that, while it may be making a good-faith effort, Zuckerberg is right that the challenge is enormous. In 2022, the company will likely continue to be heavily scrutinized -- perhaps more than other tech companies -- and how it handles that may dictate what its long-term future looks like.