Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, made securing the 2020 U.S. election a top priority. He met regularly with an election team, which included more than 300 people from across his company, to prevent misinformation from spreading on the social network. He asked civil rights leaders for advice on upholding voter rights.
The core election team at Facebook, which was renamed Meta last year, has since been dispersed. Roughly 60 people are now focused primarily on elections, while others split their time on other projects. They meet with another executive, not Mr. Zuckerberg. And the chief executive has not talked recently with civil rights groups, even as some have asked him to pay more attention to the midterm elections in November.
Safeguarding elections is no longer Mr. Zuckerberg’s top concern, said four Meta employees with knowledge of the situation. Instead, he is focused on transforming his company into a provider of the immersive world of the metaverse, which he sees as the next frontier of growth, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
hearings on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have underlined how precarious elections can be. And dozens of political candidates are running this November on the false premise that former President Donald J. Trump was robbed of the 2020 election, with social media platforms continuing to be a key way to reach American voters.
2000 Mules,” a film that falsely claims the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump, was widely shared on Facebook and Instagram, garnering more than 430,000 interactions, according to an analysis by The New York Times. In posts about the film, commenters said they expected election fraud this year and warned against using mail-in voting and electronic voting machines.
$44 billion sale to Elon Musk, three employees with knowledge of the situation said. Mr. Musk has suggested that he wants fewer rules about what can and cannot be posted on the service.
barred Mr. Trump from its platforms after the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has worked over the years to limit political falsehoods on its sites. Tom Reynolds, a Meta spokesman, said the company had “taken a comprehensive approach to how elections play out on our platforms since before the U.S. 2020 elections and through the dozens of global elections since then.”
recently raised doubts about the country’s electoral process. Latvia, Bosnia and Slovenia are also holding elections in October.
“People in the U.S. are almost certainly getting the Rolls-Royce treatment when it comes to any integrity on any platform, especially for U.S. elections,” said Sahar Massachi, the executive director of the think tank Integrity Institute and a former Facebook employee. “And so however bad it is here, think about how much worse it is everywhere else.”
Facebook’s role in potentially distorting elections became evident after 2016, when Russian operatives used the site to spread inflammatory content and divide American voters in the U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Mr. Zuckerberg testified before Congress that election security was his top priority.
banning QAnon conspiracy theory posts and groups in October 2020.
Around the same time, Mr. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $400 million to local governments to fund poll workers, pay for rental fees for polling places, provide personal protective equipment and cover other administrative costs.
The week before the November 2020 election, Meta also froze all political advertising to limit the spread of falsehoods.
But while there were successes — the company kept foreign election interference off the platform — it struggled with how to handle Mr. Trump, who used his Facebook account to amplify false claims of voter fraud. After the Jan. 6 riot, Facebook barred Mr. Trump from posting. He is eligible for reinstatement in January.
Frances Haugen, a Facebook employee turned whistle-blower, filed complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing the company of removing election safety features too soon after the 2020 election. Facebook made growth and engagement its priorities over security, she said.
fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
Mr. Zuckerberg no longer meets weekly with those focused on election security, said the four employees, though he receives their reports. Instead, they meet with Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs.
Several civil right groups said they had noticed Meta’s shift in priorities. Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t involved in discussions with them as he once was, nor are other top Meta executives, they said.
“I’m concerned,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who talked with Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Meta’s chief operating officer, ahead of the 2020 election. “It appears to be out of sight, out of mind.” (Ms. Sandberg has announced that she will leave Meta this fall.)
wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg and the chief executives of YouTube, Twitter, Snap and other platforms. They called for them to take down posts about the lie that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election and to slow the spread of election misinformation before the midterms.
Yosef Getachew, a director at the nonprofit public advocacy organization Common Cause, whose group studied 2020 election misinformation on social media, said the companies had not responded.
“The Big Lie is front and center in the midterms with so many candidates using it to pre-emptively declare that the 2022 election will be stolen,” he said, pointing to recent tweets from politicians in Michigan and Arizona who falsely said dead people cast votes for Democrats. “Now is not the time to stop enforcing against the Big Lie.”
While Meta adjusts, some small businesses have begun seeking other avenues for ads. Shawn Baker, the owner of Baker SoftWash, an exterior cleaning company in Mooresville, N.C., said it previously took about $6 of Facebook ads to identify a new customer. Now it costs $27 because the ads do not find the right people, he said.
Mr. Baker has started spending $200 a month to advertise through Google’s marketing program for local businesses, which surfaces his website when people who live in the area search for cleaners. To compensate for those higher marketing costs, he has raised his prices 7 percent.
“You’re spending more money now than what you had to spend before to do the same things,” he said.
Other tech giants with first-party information are capitalizing on the change. Amazon, for example, has reams of data on its customers, including what they buy, where they reside, and what movies or TV shows they stream.
In February, Amazon disclosed the size of its advertising business — $31.2 billion in revenue in 2021 — for the first time. That makes advertising its third-largest source of sales after e-commerce and cloud computing. Amazon declined to comment.
Amber Murray, the owner of See Your Strength in St. George, Utah, which sells stickers online for people with anxiety, started experimenting with ads on Amazon after the performance of Facebook ads deteriorated. The results were remarkable, she said.
In February, she paid about $200 for Amazon to feature her products near the top of search results when customers looked up textured stickers. Sales totaled $250 a day and continued to grow, she said. When she spent $85 on a Facebook ad campaign in January, it yielded just $37.50 in sales, she said.
“I think the golden days of Facebook advertising are over,” Ms. Murray said. “On Amazon, people are looking for you, instead of you telling people what they should want.”
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, took an unusual step last week: It suspended some of the quality controls that ensure that posts from users in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries meet its rules.
Under the change, Meta temporarily stopped tracking whether its workers who monitor Facebook and Instagram posts from those areas were accurately enforcing its content guidelines, six people with knowledge of the situation said. That’s because the workers could not keep up with shifting rules about what kinds of posts were allowed about the war in Ukraine, they said.
Meta has made more than half a dozen content policy revisions since Russia invaded Ukraine last month. The company has permitted posts about the conflict that it would normally have taken down — including some calling for the death of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and violence against Russian soldiers — before changing its mind or drawing up new guidelines, the people said.
The result has been internal confusion, especially among the content moderators who patrol Facebook and Instagram for text and images with gore, hate speech and incitements to violence. Meta has sometimes shifted its rules on a daily basis, causing whiplash, said the people, who were not authorized to speak publicly.
contended with pressure from Russian and Ukrainian authorities over the information battle about the conflict. And internally, it has dealt with discontent about its decisions, including from Russian employees concerned for their safety and Ukrainian workers who want the company to be tougher on Kremlin-affiliated organizations online, three people said.
Meta has weathered international strife before — including the genocide of a Muslim minority in Myanmar last decade and skirmishes between India and Pakistan — with varying degrees of success. Now the largest conflict on the European continent since World War II has become a litmus test of whether the company has learned to police its platforms during major global crises — and so far, it appears to remain a work in progress.
“All the ingredients of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have been around for a long time: the calls for violence, the disinformation, the propaganda from state media,” said David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a former special rapporteur to the United Nations. “What I find mystifying was that they didn’t have a game plan to deal with it.”
Dani Lever, a Meta spokeswoman, declined to directly address how the company was handling content decisions and employee concerns during the war.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Meta said it established a round-the-clock special operations team staffed by employees who are native Russian and Ukrainian speakers. It also updated its products to aid civilians in the war, including features that direct Ukrainians toward reliable, verified information to locate housing and refugee assistance.
Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, have been directly involved in the response to the war, said two people with knowledge of the efforts. But as Mr. Zuckerberg focuses on transforming Meta into a company that will lead the digital worlds of the so-called metaverse, many responsibilities around the conflict have fallen — at least publicly — to Nick Clegg, the president for global affairs.
announced that Meta would restrict access within the European Union to the pages of Russia Today and Sputnik, which are Russian state-controlled media, following requests by Ukraine and other European governments. Russia retaliated by cutting off access to Facebook inside the country, claiming the company discriminated against Russian media, and then blocking Instagram.
This month, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine praised Meta for moving quickly to limit Russian war propaganda on its platforms. Meta also acted rapidly to remove an edited “deepfake” video from its platforms that falsely featured Mr. Zelensky yielding to Russian forces.
a group called the Ukrainian Legion to run ads on its platforms this month to recruit “foreigners” for the Ukrainian army, a violation of international laws. It later removed the ads — which were shown to people in the United States, Ireland, Germany and elsewhere — because the group may have misrepresented ties to the Ukrainian government, according to Meta.
Internally, Meta had also started changing its content policies to deal with the fast-moving nature of posts about the war. The company has long forbidden posts that might incite violence. But on Feb. 26, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Meta informed its content moderators — who are typically contractors — that it would allow calls for the death of Mr. Putin and “calls for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers in the context of the Ukraine invasion,” according to the policy changes, which were reviewed by The New York Times.
Reuters reported on Meta’s shifts with a headline that suggested that posts calling for violence against all Russians would be tolerated. In response, Russian authorities labeled Meta’s activities as “extremist.”
Shortly thereafter, Meta reversed course and said it would not let its users call for the deaths of heads of state.
“Circumstances in Ukraine are fast moving,” Mr. Clegg wrote in an internal memo that was reviewed by The Times and first reported by Bloomberg. “We try to think through all the consequences, and we keep our guidance under constant review because the context is always evolving.”
Meta amended other policies. This month, it made a temporary exception to its hate speech guidelines so users could post about the “removal of Russians” and “explicit exclusion against Russians” in 12 Eastern European countries, according to internal documents. But within a week, Meta tweaked the rule to note that it should be applied only to users in Ukraine.
The constant adjustments left moderators who oversee users in Central and Eastern European countries confused, the six people with knowledge of the situation said.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
Card 1 of 3
Putin’s advisers. U.S. intelligence suggests that President Vladimir V. Putin has been misinformed by his advisers about the Russian military’s struggles in Ukraine. The intelligence shows what appears to be growing tension between Mr. Putin and the Ministry of Defense, U.S. officials said.
The policy changes were onerous because moderators were generally given less than 90 seconds to decide on whether images of dead bodies, videos of limbs being blown off, or outright calls to violence violated Meta’s rules, they said. In some instances, they added, moderators were shown posts about the war in Chechen, Kazakh or Kyrgyz, despite not knowing those languages.
Ms. Lever declined to comment on whether Meta had hired content moderators who specialize in those languages.
take action against Russia Today and Sputnik, said two people who attended. Russian state activity was at the center of Facebook’s failure to protect the 2016 U.S. presidential election, they said, and it didn’t make sense that those outlets had continued to operate on Meta’s platforms.
While Meta has no employees in Russia, the company held a separate meeting this month for workers with Russian connections. Those employees said they were concerned that Moscow’s actions against the company would affect them, according to an internal document.
In discussions on Meta’s internal forums, which were viewed by The Times, some Russian employees said they had erased their place of work from their online profiles. Others wondered what would happen if they worked in the company’s offices in places with extradition treaties to Russia and “what kind of risks will be associated with working at Meta not just for us but our families.”
Ms. Lever said Meta’s “hearts go out to all of our employees who are affected by the war in Ukraine, and our teams are working to make sure they and their families have the support they need.”
At a separate company meeting this month, some employees voiced unhappiness with the changes to the speech policies during the war, according to an internal poll. Some asked if the new rules were necessary, calling the changes “a slippery slope” that were “being used as proof that Westerners hate Russians.”
Others asked about the effect on Meta’s business. “Will Russian ban affect our revenue for the quarter? Future quarters?” read one question. “What’s our recovery strategy?”
Mr. Zuckerberg has since turned to Mr. Bosworth for major initiatives. In 2012, Mr. Bosworth was given the task of building out Facebook’s mobile advertising products. After management issues at the Oculus virtual reality division, Mr. Zuckerberg dispatched Mr. Bosworth in August 2017 to take over the initiative. The virtual reality business was later rebranded Reality Labs.
In October, the company said it would create 10,000 metaverse-related jobs in the European Union over the next five years. That same month, Mr. Zuckerberg announced he was changing Facebook’s name to Meta and pledged billions of dollars to the effort.
Reality Labs is now at the forefront of the company’s shift to the metaverse, employees said. Workers in products, engineering and research have been encouraged to apply to new roles there, they said, while others have been elevated from their jobs in social networking divisions to lead the same functions with a metaverse emphasis.
Of the more than 3,000 open jobs listed on Meta’s website, more than 24 percent are now for roles in augmented or virtual reality. The jobs are in cities including Seattle, Shanghai and Zurich. One job listing for a “gameplay engineering manager” for Horizon, the company’s free virtual reality game, said the candidate’s responsibilities would include imagining new ways to experience concerts and conventions.
Internal recruitment for the metaverse ramped up late last year, three Meta engineers said, with their managers mentioning job openings on metaverse-related teams in December and January. Others who didn’t get on board with the new mission left. One former employee said he resigned after feeling like his work on Instagram would no longer be of value to the company; another said they did not think Meta was best placed for creating the metaverse and was searching for a job at a competitor.
What Is the Metaverse, and Why Does It Matter?
Card 1 of 5
The origins. The word “metaverse” describes a fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
Meta also lured away dozens of employees from companies like Microsoft and Apple, two people with knowledge of the moves said. In particular, Meta hired from those companies’ divisions that worked on augmented reality products, like Microsoft’s Hololens and Apple’s secretive augmented reality glasses project.
Representatives for Microsoft and Apple declined to comment. Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal previously reported on some of the personnel moves.
“More people getting into social audio is good for social audio,” Maya Watson, Clubhouse’s head of global marketing, said in an interview. “We’re not bothered by it, and, if anything, it makes us feel confident in where we’re going.”
At the start of the year, Clubhouse was booming. In February, the app was downloaded 9.6 million times, Sensor Tower said. A spokeswoman for Clubhouse disputed the accuracy of Sensor Tower’s metrics, which estimate user behavior, but said the company would not provide internal figures.
The app caught the attention of audio creators like Brian McCullough, who hosts a podcast for the news aggregator Techmeme, called “Techmeme Ride Home.” “I remember having conversations that were the best social media has been in 10 years,” Mr. McCullough said of his early days on Clubhouse.
Through the app, he connected with Chris Messina, who leads West Coast business development for Republic, a platform that allows companies to raise capital and unaccredited investors to invest in start-ups. Mr. Messina made a habit of recording snippets of Mr. McCullough’s show and playing them in Clubhouse so he could respond to them, and the pair decided to start making the podcast together.
But in March, Clubhouse experienced a slump as downloads slipped to 2.7 million, and in April the app was downloaded just 917,000 times, Sensor Tower said.
At the same time, Twitter was aggressively expanding Spaces. It began testing the feature in October 2020 and granted access to a broader swath of users in the spring. At the time, the development of Spaces was the top consumer product priority at the company, said a person familiar with the company’s plans who was not permitted to speak publicly about them.
That work appeared to pay off. By May, Spaces had more than one million users, that person said. The Washington Post previously reported the figure.
SAN FRANCISCO — In 2019, Facebook researchers began a new study of one of the social network’s foundational features: the Like button.
They examined what people would do if Facebook removed the distinct thumbs-up icon and other emoji reactions from posts on its photo-sharing app Instagram, according to company documents. The buttons had sometimes caused Instagram’s youngest users “stress and anxiety,” the researchers found, especially if posts didn’t get enough Likes from friends.
But the researchers discovered that when the Like button was hidden, users interacted less with posts and ads. At the same time, it did not alleviate teenagers’ social anxiety and young users did not share more photos, as the company thought they might, leading to a mixed bag of results.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and other managers discussed hiding the Like button for more Instagram users, according to the documents. In the end, a larger test was rolled out in just a limited capacity to “build a positive press narrative” around Instagram.
misinformation, privacy and hate speech, a central issue has been whether the basic way that the platform works has been at fault — essentially, the features that have made Facebook be Facebook.
Apart from the Like button, Facebook has scrutinized its share button, which lets users instantly spread content posted by other people; its groups feature, which is used to form digital communities; and other tools that define how more than 3.5 billion people behave and interact online. The research, laid out in thousands of pages of internal documents, underlines how the company has repeatedly grappled with what it has created.
What researchers found was often far from positive. Time and again, they determined that people misused key features or that those features amplified toxic content, among other effects. In an August 2019 internal memo, several researchers said it was Facebook’s “core product mechanics” — meaning the basics of how the product functioned — that had let misinformation and hate speech flourish on the site.
“The mechanics of our platform are not neutral,” they concluded.
hide posts they do not want to see and turning off political group recommendations to reduce the spread of misinformation.
But the core way that Facebook operates — a network where information can spread rapidly and where people can accumulate friends and followers and Likes — ultimately remains largely unchanged.
Many significant modifications to the social network were blocked in the service of growth and keeping users engaged, some current and former executives said. Facebook is valued at more than $900 billion.
“There’s a gap between the fact that you can have pretty open conversations inside of Facebook as an employee,” said Brian Boland, a Facebook vice president who left last year. “Actually getting change done can be much harder.”
The company documents are part of the Facebook Papers, a cache provided to the Securities and Exchange Commission and to Congress by a lawyer representing Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee who has become a whistle-blower. Ms. Haugen earlier gave the documents to The Wall Street Journal. This month, a congressional staff member supplied the redacted disclosures to more than a dozen other news organizations, including The New York Times.
In a statement, Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, criticized articles based on the documents, saying that they were built on a “false premise.”
“Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or well-being misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie,” he said. He said Facebook had invested $13 billion and hired more than 40,000 people to keep people safe, adding that the company has called “for updated regulations where democratic governments set industry standards to which we can all adhere.”
post this month, Mr. Zuckerberg said it was “deeply illogical” that the company would give priority to harmful content because Facebook’s advertisers don’t want to buy ads on a platform that spreads hate and misinformation.
“At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted,” he wrote.
The Foundations of Success
When Mr. Zuckerberg founded Facebook 17 years ago in his Harvard University dorm room, the site’s mission was to connect people on college campuses and bring them into digital groups with common interests and locations.
Growth exploded in 2006 when Facebook introduced the News Feed, a central stream of photos, videos and status updates posted by people’s friends. Over time, the company added more features to keep people interested in spending time on the platform.
In 2009, Facebook introduced the Like button. The tiny thumbs-up symbol, a simple indicator of people’s preferences, became one of the social network’s most important features. The company allowed other websites to adopt the Like button so users could share their interests back to their Facebook profiles.
That gave Facebook insight into people’s activities and sentiments outside of its own site, so it could better target them with advertising. Likes also signified what users wanted to see more of in their News Feeds so people would spend more time on Facebook.
Facebook also added the groups feature, where people join private communication channels to talk about specific interests, and pages, which allowed businesses and celebrities to amass large fan bases and broadcast messages to those followers.
Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, has said that research on users’ well-being led to investments in anti-bullying measures on Instagram.
Understand the Facebook Papers
Card 1 of 6
A tech giant in trouble. The leak of internal documents by a former Facebook employee has provided an intimate look at the operations of the secretive social media company and renewed calls for better regulations of the company’s wide reach into the lives of its users.
The whistle-blower. During an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Oct. 3, Frances Haugen, a Facebook product manager who left the company in May, revealed that she was responsible for the leak of those internal documents.
Ms. Haugen’s testimony in Congress. On Oct. 5, Ms. Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee, saying that Facebook was willing to use hateful and harmful content on its site to keep users coming back. Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, called her accusations untrue.
The Facebook Papers. Ms. Haugen also filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided the documents to Congress in redacted form. A congressional staff member then supplied the documents, known as the Facebook Papers, to several news organizations, including The New York Times.
Yet Facebook cannot simply tweak itself so that it becomes a healthier social network when so many problems trace back to core features, said Jane Lytvynenko, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy Shorenstein Center, who studies social networks and misinformation.
“When we talk about the Like button, the share button, the News Feed and their power, we’re essentially talking about the infrastructure that the network is built on top of,” she said. “The crux of the problem here is the infrastructure itself.”
As Facebook’s researchers dug into how its products worked, the worrisome results piled up.
In a July 2019 study of groups, researchers traced how members in those communities could be targeted with misinformation. The starting point, the researchers said, were people known as “invite whales,” who sent invitations out to others to join a private group.
These people were effective at getting thousands to join new groups so that the communities ballooned almost overnight, the study said. Then the invite whales could spam the groups with posts promoting ethnic violence or other harmful content, according to the study.
Another 2019 report looked at how some people accrued large followings on their Facebook pages, often using posts about cute animals and other innocuous topics. But once a page had grown to tens of thousands of followers, the founders sold it. The buyers then used the pages to show followers misinformation or politically divisive content, according to the study.
As researchers studied the Like button, executives considered hiding the feature on Facebook as well, according to the documents. In September 2019, it removed Likes from users’ Facebook posts in a small experiment in Australia.
The company wanted to see if the change would reduce pressure and social comparison among users. That, in turn, might encourage people to post more frequently to the network.
But people did not share more posts after the Like button was removed. Facebook chose not to roll the test out more broadly, noting, “Like counts are extremely low on the long list of problems we need to solve.”
Last year, company researchers also evaluated the share button. In a September 2020 study, a researcher wrote that the button and so-called reshare aggregation units in the News Feed, which are automatically generated clusters of posts that have already been shared by people’s friends, were “designed to attract attention and encourage engagement.”
But gone unchecked, the features could “serve to amplify bad content and sources,” such as bullying and borderline nudity posts, the researcher said.
That’s because the features made people less hesitant to share posts, videos and messages with one another. In fact, users were three times more likely to share any kind of content from the reshare aggregation units, the researcher said.
One post that spread widely this way was an undated message from an account called “The Angry Patriot.” The post notified users that people protesting police brutality were “targeting a police station” in Portland, Ore. After it was shared through reshare aggregation units, hundreds of hate-filled comments flooded in. It was an example of “hate bait,” the researcher said.
A common thread in the documents was how Facebook employees argued for changes in how the social network worked and often blamed executives for standing in the way.
In an August 2020 internal post, a Facebook researcher criticized the recommendation system that suggests pages and groups for people to follow and said it can “very quickly lead users down the path to conspiracy theories and groups.”
“Out of fears over potential public and policy stakeholder responses, we are knowingly exposing users to risks of integrity harms,” the researcher wrote. “During the time that we’ve hesitated, I’ve seen folks from my hometown go further and further down the rabbit hole” of conspiracy theory movements like QAnon and anti-vaccination and Covid-19 conspiracies.
The researcher added, “It has been painful to observe.”
Reporting was contributed by Davey Alba, Sheera Frenkel, Cecilia Kang and Ryan Mac.
Facebook knew that an ad intended for a 13-year-old was likely to capture younger children who wanted to mimic their older siblings and friends, one person said. Managers told employees that Facebook did everything it could to stop underage users from joining Instagram, but that it could not be helped if they signed up anyway.
In September 2018, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram’s founders, left Facebook after clashing with Mr. Zuckerberg. Mr. Mosseri, a longtime Facebook executive, was appointed to helm Instagram.
With the leadership changes, Facebook went all out to turn Instagram into a main attraction for young audiences, four former employees said. That coincided with the realization that Facebook itself, which was grappling with data privacy and other scandals, would never be a teen destination, the people said.
Instagram began concentrating on the “teen time spent” data point, three former employees said. The goal was to drive up the amount of time that teenagers were on the app with features including Instagram Live, a broadcasting tool, and Instagram TV, where people upload videos that run as long as an hour.
Instagram also increased its global marketing budget. In 2018, it allocated $67.2 million to marketing. In 2019, that increased to a planned $127.3 million, then to $186.3 million last year and $390 million this year, according to the internal documents. Most of the budgets were designated to wooing teens, the documents show. Mr. Mosseri approved the budgets, two employees said.
The money was slated for marketing categories like “establishing Instagram as the favorite place for teens to express themselves” and cultural programs for events like the Super Bowl, according to the documents.
Many of the resulting ads were digital, featuring some of the platform’s top influencers, such as Donté Colley, a Canadian dancer and creator. The marketing, when put into action, also targeted parents of teenagers and people up to the age of 34.
“With Facebook being down we’re losing thousands in sales,” said Mark Donnelly, a start-up founder in Ireland who runs HUH Clothing, a fashion brand focused on mental health that uses Facebook and Instagram to reach customers. “It may not sound like a lot to others, but missing out on four or five hours of sales could be the difference between paying the electricity bill or rent for the month.”
Samir Munir, who owns a food-delivery service in Delhi, said he was unable to reach clients or fulfill orders because he runs the business through his Facebook page and takes orders via WhatsApp.
“Everything is down, my whole business is down,” he said.
Douglas Veney, a gamer in Cleveland who goes by GoodGameBro and who is paid by viewers and subscribers on Facebook Gaming, said, “It’s hard when your primary platform for income for a lot of people goes down.” He called the situation “scary.”
Inside Facebook, workers also scrambled because their internal systems stopped functioning. The company’s global security team “was notified of a system outage affecting all Facebook internal systems and tools,” according to an internal memo sent to employees and shared with The New York Times. Those tools included security systems, an internal calendar and scheduling tools, the memo said.
Employees said they had trouble making calls from work-issued cellphones and receiving emails from people outside the company. Facebook’s internal communications platform, Workplace, was also taken out, leaving many unable to do their jobs. Some turned to other platforms to communicate, including LinkedIn and Zoom as well as Discord chat rooms.
Some Facebook employees who had returned to working in the office were also unable to enter buildings and conference rooms because their digital badges stopped working. Security engineers said they were hampered from assessing the outage because they could not get to server areas.
Facebook’s global security operations center determined the outage was “a HIGH risk to the People, MODERATE risk to Assets and a HIGH risk to the Reputation of Facebook,” the company memo said.
SAN FRANCISCO — When India’s government ordered Facebook and other tech companies to take down posts critical of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic in April, the social network complied on some posts.
But once it did, its employees flocked to online chat rooms to ask why Facebook had helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India stifle dissent. In one internal post, which was reviewed by The New York Times, an employee with family in India accused Facebook of “being afraid” that Mr. Modi would ban the company from doing business in the country. “We can’t act or make decisions out of fear,” he wrote.
Weeks later, when clashes broke out in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians, Facebook removed posts from prominent Palestinian activists and briefly banned hashtags related to the violence. Facebook employees again took to the message boards to ask why their company now appeared to be censoring pro-Palestinian content.
“It just feels like, once again, we are erring on the side of a populist government and making decisions due to politics, not policies,” one worker wrote in an internal message that was reviewed by The Times.
inflammatory posts from former President Donald J. Trump. But since Mr. Trump left office in January, attention has shifted to Facebook’s global policies and what employees said was the company’s acquiescence to governments so that it could continue profiting in those countries.
“There’s a feeling among people at Facebook that this is a systematic approach, one which favors strong government leaders over the principles of doing what is right and correct,” said Ashraf Zeitoon, Facebook’s former head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa region, who left in 2017.
Facebook is increasingly caught in a vise. In India, Russia and elsewhere, governments are pressuring it to remove content as they try to corral the platform’s power over online speech. But when Facebook complies with the takedown orders, it has upset its own employees, who say the social network has helped authoritarian leaders and repressive regimes quash activists and silence marginalized communities.
BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times earlier reported on some of the employee dissatisfaction at Facebook over Israeli and Palestinian content.
A divide between Facebook’s employees and the global policy team, which is composed of roughly 1,000 employees, has existed for years, current and former workers said. The policy team reports to Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer.
many tricky international situations over the years, including in Russia, Vietnam and Myanmar, where it has had to consider whether it would be shut down if it did not work with governments. That has led to the employee dissent, which has begun spilling into public view.
That became evident with India. In April, as Covid-19 cases soared in the country, Mr. Modi’s government called for roughly 100 social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be pulled down. Many of the posts included critiques of the government from opposition politicians and calls for Mr. Modi’s resignation.
Facebook removed some of the posts and briefly blocked a hashtag, #ResignModi. The company later said the hashtag had been banned by mistake and was not part of a government request.
But internally, the damage was done. In online chat rooms dedicated to human rights issues and global policy, employees described how disappointed they were with Facebook’s actions. Some shared stories of family members in India who were worried they were being censored.
Last month, when violence broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, reports surfaced that Facebook had erased content from Palestinian activists. Facebook’s Instagram app also briefly banned the #AlAqsa hashtag, a reference to Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Facebook later explained that it had confused the #AlAqsa hashtag with a Palestinian militant group called Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
Understand the Covid Crisis in India
Employees bristled. “We are responding to people’s protests about censoring with more censoring?” one wrote in an internal message, which was reviewed by The Times.
Nick Clegg, who leads public affairs, to explain the company’s role in removing content tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to attendees. The employee called the situation in Israel “fraught” and asked how Facebook was going “to get it right” with content moderation.
Mr. Clegg ran through a list of policy rules and plans going forward, and assured staff that moderation would be treated with fairness and responsibility, two people familiar with the meeting said. The discussion was cordial, one of the people said, and comments in the chat box beside Mr. Clegg’s response were largely positive.
But some employees were dissatisfied, the people said. As Mr. Clegg spoke, they broke off into private chats and workplace groups, known as Tribes, to discuss what to do.
Dozens of employees later formed a group to flag the Palestinian content that they said had been suppressed to internal content moderation teams, said two employees. The goal was to have the posts reinstated online, they said.
Members of Facebook’s policy team have tried calming the tensions. In an internal memo in mid-May, which was reviewed by The Times, two policy team members wrote to other employees that they hoped “that Facebook’s internal community will resist succumbing to the division and demonization of the other side that is so brutally playing itself out offline and online.”
One of them was Muslim, and the other was Jewish, they said.
“We don’t always agree,” they wrote. “However, we do some of our best work when we assume good intent and recognize that we are on the same side trying to serve our community in the best possible way.”
Instagram removed some posts and restricted access to other content that used hashtags related to the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after mistakenly associating the name with a terrorist organization, according to an internal company message.
The error, acknowledged by Facebook, which owns Instagram, added a new irritant to the crisis roiling Jerusalem and spreading elsewhere in Israel and the occupied territories. The crisis began over an Israeli police crackdown around the mosque, which is built atop a site holy to Muslims and Jews.
Facebook said in the message that while “Al-Aqsa” often refers to the mosque, “it is also unfortunately included in the names of several restricted organizations.” Although the company did not identify those groups, the State Department has designated the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as a foreign terrorist organization, and several other groups with “Al-Aqsa” in their names have had sanctions imposed on them by the United States.
As a result, the company said, some content related to the Aqsa Mosque was mistakenly removed or restricted.
BuzzFeed News, had fueled criticism that Instagram and other social media platforms were censoring Palestinian voices after a raid by the Israeli police on the mosque left hundreds of Palestinians and a score of police officers wounded.
Facebook’s internal message said the company was making changes to ensure that the term “Al-Aqsa” by itself does not prompt restrictions or removals.
“These mistakes are painful, erode the trust of our community and there is no easy fix for that,” the Facebook employee wrote. “While I cannot promise that future errors will not occur — I can promise that we are working earnestly to ensure that we are not censoring salient political and social voices in Jerusalem and around the world.”
Twitter, which had also been accused of unfairly blocking Palestinian content, said in a statement that it used a combination of technology and people to enforce its rules.
“In certain cases, our automated systems took enforcement action on a small number of accounts in error through an automated spam filter,” Twitter said in a statement. “We expeditiously reversed these actions to reinstate access to the affected accounts.”