In the wake of a whistleblower Frances Haugen's damning allegations against Facebook in October, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly told employees not to apologize and directed the company's lobbyists to launch a political spin operation.
"To lawmakers and advocacy groups on the right, according to people familiar with the conversations, their message was that Ms. Haugen was trying to help Democrats," the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. "Within hours, several conservative news outlets published stories alleging Ms. Haugen was a Democratic activist."
Meanwhile, Facebook lobbyists also contacted Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill, warning them that Republicans were angry about the company's decision to ban expressions of support for Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse.
"The company’s goal, according to Republicans and Democrats familiar with the company’s outreach, was to muddy the waters, divide lawmakers along partisan lines and forestall a cross-party alliance that was emerging to enact tougher rules on social-media companies in general and Facebook in particular," the newspaper reported.
The company's "sharp-elbowed" response to Haugen's claims was driven by Zuckerberg as the social media giant faced its biggest crisis in years, according to the report. Zuckerberg "told employees not to apologize" and announced the company was changing its name to Meta.
"Mr. Zuckerberg pushed subordinates to respond more forcefully to the bad publicity, according to people familiar with the discussions," according to the Wall Street Journal. "In a virtual meeting in late November, some of Meta’s largest institutional investors asked Facebook to address some of the issues around user safety, according to people familiar with the call. Some investors found Mr. Zuckerberg, who also is chairman, defensive on the call, these people said. They left dissatisfied with Facebook’s overall response, because the company reiterated previous talking points and didn’t share any big new changes, according to a written briefing about the meeting described to the Journal."
Later, when company executives discussed the possibility of halting development of a version of Instagram for children due to the platform's harmful impact on teens, Zuckerberg "said that wasn't an option," according to one person familiar with the discussions.
"The company considered suing Ms. Haugen but decided the public perception would be that it was trying to silence a whistleblower, said people familiar with the matter," the newspaper reported.