2021 Was an Annus Horribilis for Facebook


Criticism of Facebook increased in 2021. Frances Haugen, a former product manager at the company, revealed that Facebook has put “astronomical profits before people,” and people have been abused and tortured. Will Facebook take into consideration these issues?




In my book, Robots, Ethics and the Future of Jobs, I described how in 2016, at the time of the US presidential election, Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm that combined data mining, brokerage, and analysis, harvested the personal data of millions of conservative voters in the US and encouraged them to vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election. Initially, Facebook did not admit its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal until Christopher Wylie, a whistle-blower who had worked for Cambridge Analytica, broke the story in The Observer newspaper in March 2018. Facebook came under increased pressure to respond to what happened and finally accepted that it was responsible. As a result, many people claim that Facebook does not respect people’s right to privacy online. This has led to a growing clamor that legislators, both locally and globally, have both an obligation and responsibility to regulate the behavior of powerful technology companies. Many of these companies, such as Facebook, enjoy a monopoly situation and should, in justice, be broken up to allow other competitors to enter the market. Facebook should be forced to sell Instagram and WhatsApp and must not be allowed to gobble up competitors as they have done in the past.

Facebook’s Criticism
Criticism of Facebook intensified dramatically in 2021 when Frances Haugen, a product manager at the company, resigned from her job and took tens of thousands of the company’s documents with her. These documents show that Facebook knew its products were damaging teenagers’ mental health and stirring up ethnic violence in countries such as Ethiopia and Myanmar. Haugen argues that Facebook has put “astronomical profits before people,” and people have been abused and tortured. Haugen’s research revealed the effect that Instagram, a company owned by Facebook, has on teenage mental health because their algorithm makes “body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”

In 2018, a UN fact-finding mission in Myanmar highlighted the role Facebook played in spreading hate speech against the Rohingya Muslim people. At the moment, a group of Rohingya refugees has requested that the Irish government intervene in their fight to make Facebook pay for the ethnic cleansing operations against them in 2017. James Douglas who works as a legal adviser for Victim Advocates International believes that Ireland should support the Rohingya, since Facebook’s regional center is in Ireland and also that Myanmar users’ data is stored in Ireland and content moderation of the site is handled there also.

In October 2021, Haugen testified before the US Senate which sparked a rare display of bipartisanship among Democratic and Republican senators, who were impressed with her competence and concerns. Haugen has also spoken at the British Parliament in London and the European Parliament in Brussels.

Facebook challenges some of Haugen’s claims. The company points out that in 2021, it spent $5 billion on improving safety and security and has 40,000 employees globally working on these issues. Context moderators in Ireland who filter out repulsive content for Facebook complain that they are given no psychological support for the damage done by looking at such content and that they are poorly paid.

Challenge The Multinational Companies
One of the points I make in my book, Robots, Ethics and the Future of Jobs, is that we need to understand the enormous power that these multinational companies have, and we also need to challenge their activities from a moral perspective. Frances Haugen says that her decision to resign from the company and publish Facebook documents came after she moved in with her mother, who had given up an academic career to become an Episcopal priest. These conversations with her mother helped her make the courageous decisions she made.

It is an open question whether Facebook will change its ways since its finances are now secure. Facebook Ireland has seen a major jump in its revenue and profits from 6.3 billion euros to 40 billion in 2020. Pre-tax profits rose from 482 million euros in 2019 to 890 million euros in 2020. International Facebook is also doing well financially. It reported its third-quarter revenue in 2021 to be $29.01 billion. These are staggering figures, so, while Facebook’s finances are in top shape, its good name is not. Part of the problem, according to Frances Haugen, is the control that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has on the company as he controls the majority of shares. She believes that if independent investors joined the company, they would demand change at the top which would rein in Zuckerberg’s power.

Share Your Thoughts

All comments are moderated

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage


Presents, discusses and draws readers to reflect on issues of outmost relevance to the world today.


Very often, mission is carried out in frontier situations around the world. Those who embrace these situations have much to share.


Writer Ilsa Reyes will be exploring the richness of Pope Francis’s latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti with a view of helping our readers to get a grasp of the this beautiful papal document.


Puts to the front committed and inspiring people around the world who embrace humanitarian and religious causes with altruism and passion.


Focus on a given theme of interest touching upon social, economic and religious issues.


As the Philippines prepares to celebrate 500 years of the arrival of Christianity. Fr. James Kroeger leads us in this series into a discovery journey of the landmark events in the history of faith in the Philippine archipelago.


Aims to nurture and inspire our hearts and minds while pondering upon timely themes.


The large archipelago of the Philippines, in its richness of peoples and cultures, offers varied and challenging situations for mission.


Reflections and vocation stories that shape up the lives of young people.


As humor and goodness of heart are qualities of Christian and missionary life, the new column “Mission is fun” will be publishing some anecdotes and stories that have happened in a missionary context to lighten up the spirits and trigger a smile in our faces.


To help readers of World Mission live this year dedicated to Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, Tita Puangco, writer and lecturer, shares in this section insights on the spirituality of communion.


A historic view of the Catholic movements that emerged from the grassroots as an inspiration by the Holy Spirit.


On the Year of Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, radio host and communicator Ilsa Reyes, in her monthly column, encourages Christians and people of good will to be one with their fellow people of other sects, religions and tribes.


Questions to a personality of the Church or secular world on matters of interest that touch upon the lives of people.


News from the Church, the missionary world and environment that inform and form the consciences.


A feature on environmental issues that are affecting the whole world with the view of raising awareness and prompting action.


The editor gives his personal take on a given topic related to the life of the Church, the society or the world.


A monthly column on themes touching the lives of young people in the Year of the Youth in the Philippines by radio host and communicator I lsa Reyes.


A missionary living in the Chinese world shares his life-experiences made up of challenges and joyous encounters with common people.


Life stories of people who deserve to be known for who they were, what they did and what they stood for in their journey on earth.


Stories of people whom a missionary met in his life and who were touched by Jesus in mysterious ways.


Critical reflection from a Christian perspective on current issues.


Comboni missionary Fr. Lorenzo Carraro makes a journey through history pinpointing landmark events that changed the course of humanity.


A biographical sketch of a public person, known for his/her influence in the society and in the Church, showing an exemplary commitment to the service of others.


Gives fresh, truthful, and comprehensive information on issues that are of concern to all.


A column aimed at helping the readers live their Christian mission by focusing on what is essential in life and what it entails.


Peoples, events, religion, culture and the society of Asia in focus.


The human heart always searches for greatness in God’s eyes, treading the path to the fullness of life - no matter what it takes.


The subcontinent of India with its richness and variety of cultures and religions is given center stage.


The African continent in focus where Christianity is growing the fastest in the world.


Well-known writer and public speaker, Fr. Jerry Orbos, accompanies our journey of life and faith with moments of wit and inspiration based on the biblical and human wisdom.


On the year dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyala, Fr. Lorenzo Carraro walks us through the main themes of the Ignatian spirituality.


Fr. John Taneburgo helps us to meditate every month on each of the Seven Last Words that Jesus uttered from the cross.


In this section, Fr. Lorenzo delves into the secrets and depths of the Sacred Scriptures opening for us the treasures of the Sacred Book so that the reader may delight in the knowledge of the Word of God.


Reflections about the synodal journey on a conversational and informal style to trigger reflection and sharing about the synodal path the Church has embarked upon.

Shopping Cart