META Last month, a researcher for Meta prepared a talk for colleagues that they knew would hit close to home. The subject: how to cope as a researcher when the company you work for is constantly receiving negative press.
Early November was set as the date for Meta’s annual research summit for employees, but the company’s legal and communications departments determined that the risk of leakage was too great. Days before, it had disappeared from the summit’s agenda along with a pre-taped talk about tackling hate speech and bullying. Both speeches were never presented.
The pulling of the talks highlights how a barrage of leaks and external scrutiny has chilled the flow of information inside the company formerly known as Facebook. Many of the changes appear designed to thwart the next Frances Haugen, who worked in the Integrity organization responsible for making the social network safer before she quit earlier this year, taking thousands of internal documents with her.
Those documents served as the basis for a series of damning stories in The Wall Street Journal and dozens of other news outlets, including The Verge. Some of them, such as internal research showing Instagram and Facebook can have negative effects on young people, have led to congressional hearings and lawsuits. According to Meta executives, the documents have been cherry-picked to malign the company and portray an incomplete picture.
In spite of the fact that Haugen’s release of documents hasn’t yet led to meaningful changes in Meta’s products, they’ve left a lasting impression on how the world’s largest social network functions, particularly in its Integrity and Research divisions. Ten of the 70 preapproved talks presented at the internal research summit a couple of weeks ago received a second, more stringent review to minimize leak risk.
Senior leaders, including policy and communications chief Nick Clegg, have in recent months slowed the release of Integrity research internally, asking for reports to be reviewed again before they’re shared even in private groups. In some cases, researchers have been told to make clear what is defensible by data in their work and what is opinion, and that their projects will need to be cleared by more managers before work begins.