Facebook employees are deleting potentially controversial comments and messages from the company’s internal communications systems, after the leak of a 2016 memo in which Vice President Andrew Bosworth appeared to place growth priorities ahead of public safety concerns.
According to Facebook employees who spoke with the New York Times, staffers are also urging the company to hunt down the leakers who released the Bosworth memo.
If the report is accurate, the deletion of internal communications could have legal implications, including in an ongoing Federal Trade Commission investigation into the company’s data-handling practices. Destruction of internal documents was a partial focus of the FTC’s recent investigation of Volkswagen.
Bosworth’s memo continued catastrophic PR fallout following findings that the Facebook data of as many as 50 million users was wrongly harvested by the election consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. In the memo leaked Thursday, Bosworth wrote that “connecting people” should be the company’s driving goal, even if “it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies” or “someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”
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Facebook executives have defended the memo as merely provocative, and not actually intended to deny Facebook’s responsibility to try to prevent bullying or terrorism. Bosworth issued a statement via Twitter Thursday night saying he “didn’t agree with [the post] even when I wrote it” and cares “deeply about how our product affects people.” He further wrote that “this was one of the most unpopular things I’ve ever written internally and the ensuing debate helped shape our tools for the better.”
While some parts of Bosworth’s message may be defensible as pot-stirring hyperbole, others are more difficult to rationalize. For instance, Bosworth wrote about “questionable contact importing practices.” That phrase shows high-level internal awareness about choices including the collection of detailed call logs from many Facebook users, which reached public attention last week. That news contributed to growing signs that users no longer trust the social network to protect their personal data.