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On Tuesday, Facebook told its employees to preserve internal documents and communications for legal reasons, as governments and regulators have opened inquiries into its operations amid an onslaught of revelations from whistleblower documents.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to Reuters that the company sent a legal hold notice to all personnel for documents. “Document preservation requests are part of the process of responding to legal inquiries,” the spokesperson added.
The request applies to documents and communications dating back to 2016, reported the New York Times, which broke the news of the legal hold.
The increased scrutiny comes after a former employee turned whistleblower, Frances Haugen, turned over internal documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal. Redacted versions of the documents submitted to the SEC were later made available to a larger group of news outlets.
“I did what I thought was necessary to save the lives of people, especially in the global south, who I think are being endangered by Facebook’s prioritization of profits over people,” she told the Guardian. “If I hadn’t brought those documents forward that was never going to come to light.”
News reports based on the leaked documents in recent weeks have raised a wide range of questions about the company’s workings, including the impact of its apps on young people’s mental health, the company’s knowledge about the aggressive spread of misinformation and hate speech on its platforms, and the measures it took to stop the proliferation of human trafficking operations on its apps.
Facebook has disputed those reports, calling it a “coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to create a false picture about our company”.
Mark Zuckerberg told investors in an earnings call this week that the issues the company is facing “aren’t primarily about social media” but relating to “polarization [that] started rising in the US before I was born”.
These revelations have already drawn the attention of US lawmakers. Earlier this month, Congress grilled Facebook’s head of safety, Antigone Davis, in a hearing examining the impacts of the company’s products on children.
Maria Cantwell, the chair of the US Senate’s commerce committee, called on Zuckerberg earlier this month to preserve all documents related to Haugen’s testimony.
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported that officials at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had started investigating whether some of Facebook’s leaked research documents indicate that the company violated a 2019 settlement with the agency. The FTC declined the Journal’s request for comment.