Facebook Inc. executives believe a former employee whistle-blower will accuse the company of relaxing its election-related safeguards too soon following last November’s vote, and will suggest on “60 Minutes” that the company’s products contributed to the Capitol riots in Washington in January.
The whistle-blower, who already shared a trove of internal documents with the Wall Street Journal, will appear in an interview on “60 Minutes” Sunday evening. The person, whose identity is not yet known, is also set to testify before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of global policy, braced employees for the expected charges in a memo on Friday evening.
“I know some of you – especially those of you in the US – are going to get questions from friends and family about these things,” Clegg wrote in the memo, seen by Bloomberg. “So I wanted to take a moment as we head into the weekend to provide what I hope is some useful context on our work in these crucial areas.” The New York Times first reported on Clegg’s memo.
Clegg said those responsible for the Jan. 6 riots are “the perpetrators of the violence, and those in politics and elsewhere who actively encouraged them.”
“Mature democracies in which social media use is widespread hold elections all the time – for instance Germany’s election last week – without the disfiguring presence of violence,” he added.
The company has more than 40,000 people working on safety and security, and removed more than 5 billion fake accounts in 2020, he said. Between March 2020 and Election Day, the company removed over 265,000 pieces of Facebook and Instagram content in the US which violated voter interference policies, he said.
Facebook only rolled back on pre-election “emergency measures – based on careful data-driven analysis – when we saw a return to more normal conditions,” Clegg wrote. “We left some of them on for a longer period of time through February this year and others, like not recommending civic, political or new Groups, we have decided to retain permanently.”
Clegg also said he expects the whistle-blower will also accuse the company of increasing polarization through the company’s News Feed algorithm, an allegation he believes is unfair.
“The increase in political polarization in the US pre-dates social media by several decades,” he wrote. “If it were true that Facebook is the chief cause of polarization, we would expect to see it going up wherever Facebook is popular. It isn’t.”
Clegg’s memo followed a series of stories in the Wall Street Journal last month that found Facebook struggles in a number of key content areas, including Covid-19 misinformation. One story also highlighted research from Facebook-owned Instagram that found the app makes mental health issues worse for some users, particularly teens.
Those documents spurred a Senate subcommittee hearing on Thursday that focused on children’s safety online. The whistle-blower will appear before the same committee next week as part of a hearing with a similar theme.
Clegg ended his memo by telling employees that they should “hold our heads up high” and be “proud” of the work that the company does. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment.