Web Summit 2021: Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen calls for Mark Zuckerberg to step down

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  • Mark Zuckerberg
    Mark Zuckerberg
    American Internet entrepreneur
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen at Web Summit (Sportsfile)
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen at Web Summit (Sportsfile)

LISBON, PORTUGAL — Facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen has called for Mark Zuckerberg to step down as CEO of the $1 trillion company he founded.

In her first public address since leaking tens of thousands of pages of internal documents which have rocked the social media giant, Haugen said Zuckerberg’s departure would benefit both the company and wider society.

“Right now the reality is that Mark holds 54% of voting shares in Facebook, he is chairman and CEO. At a minimum the shareholders have the right to choose their CEO,” she said during an event in Lisbon on Monday evening.

“It’s unlikely the company will change if he remains CEO. There is so much good he could do in the world, and maybe it’s a chance for someone else to take the reins.”

“Facebook would be stronger with someone who’s willing to focus on safety.”

Haugen said her actions were driven by a belief that Facebook needed to change in order to save lives.

“I genuinely believe that there are a million, or maybe 10 million lives on the line in the next 20 years, and compared to that nothing really feels like a real consequence,” she said.

Haugen is a former Facebook product manager who leaked huge amounts of documents to the Wall Street Journal. She alleges the documents show Facebook prioritizes profit over people. Haugen has given evidence to lawmakers in both the UK and US on the evidence. Damian Collins MP, chair of parliament’s joint committee, said Haugen’s testimony “strengthened the case for an independent regulator with the power to audit and inspect the big tech companies.”

Her leaking has prompted crisis at Facebook, which recently rebranded as Meta. The company has strongly denied her suggestions and says it is focused on safety.

A spokesperson for Meta said: “We are on track to spend more than $5bn on safety and security in 2021 – more than any other tech company – and have 40,000 people to do one job: keep people safe on our apps.”

Speaking on Monday, Haugen reserved a particular contempt for Facebook’s recent rebrand as Meta and its focus on building the next-generation of the internet, the so-called Metaverse based around a virtual reality. The company recently announced plans to hire 10,000 new engineers across Europe to help build the metaverse.

“Instead of investing on making sure the platform is minimal level safe they are about to invest 10,000 engineers in video games,” she said.

A Meta spokesperson said: “This is a ludicrous comparison and a false choice. It is not as though a company can only build new technology or invest in keeping people safe. Obviously, we can and must do both of these things at the same time - and we are.”

Haugen spoke to a packed arena at the opening session of Web Summit, which reconvened in Lisbon this week for the first in-person gathering since the pandemic struck. The event is the biggest technology conference in Europe.

Former deputy PM turned Facebook’s global VP Nick Clegg will be pressed for a response to Haugen’s when he takes the stage today. He has previously said that social media was being held responsible “for issues that run much deeper in society”.

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