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Meta Reorganizes Research Department Amid Scrutiny Over Findings

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(Bloomberg) -- Meta Platforms Inc. is restructuring its internal research department, bringing dozens of employees previously working on product specific teams or business units, like WhatsApp or Instagram, into a central group to handle research for the entire company.

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The restructuring will affect about 50 researchers, says Pratiti Raychoudhury, the head of research at Meta, who will oversee the group. The changes will involve workers examining societal topics such as politics, well-being and health, climate, equity, and integrity-related topics like misinformation and account safety, said a spokeswoman for Meta, the former Facebook Inc.

“Centralizing this work is the best way to ensure our teams learn from each other and implement their research findings consistently across all of our platforms,” Raychoudhury said in a statement. “Over the last few months, we’ve had the opportunity to assess how we work and we believe these actions will enable us to improve our products and better serve the people who use them.”

The move will let researchers who were previously working in different corners of the company collaborate more effectively, Raychoudhury said. No firings or job losses are expected as a result of the reorganization, the company said.

Meta’s reorganization is the company’s first major shake-up to its research team since a consortium of media organizations published a series of damaging reports based on internal documents disclosed by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager turned whistle-blower. Meta’s top executives have sought to defend the company against accusations that it downplays negative internal research about its business practices while also refocusing its business on new innovations in virtual and augmented reality.

In October, Facebook renamed itself to signal its intention to stake its future on the metaverse -- a term used to describe immersive digital environments accessed through virtual- and augmented-reality tools. Days prior, the company also announced it would begin in the last quarter of the year to break out financial results for Facebook Reality Labs, which includes the Oculus hardware division. The move enables the company to separate its main digital advertising business from its major investments in virtual reality and let investors see the costs and revenue associated with those efforts.

The company also tapped longtime executive Andrew Bosworth to take over as chief technology officer in early 2022.

The Menlo Park, California-based company has been investing in VR- and AR-powered products in part because of Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s longtime belief that they will be the basis for the next major platform for human communication, and will enable the company to be less dependent on existing mobile device makers such as Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to deliver its services.

Haugen went public in early October with accusations that Facebook has been prioritizing profits over tackling user safety and security. Dubbed the Facebook Papers, the documents surfaced new revelations about how the company’s social networks spread hate speech and misinformation as well as harm the mental health of vulnerable teenagers.

Since then, Meta has been under mounting scrutiny from regulators around the world over how it polices its platform. Instagram head Adam Mosseri is scheduled to appear Wednesday before a U.S. Senate subcommittee probing the safety of social media for children. Last month, a group of U.S. state attorneys general announced an investigation into Instagram’s efforts to engage children and young adults. Haugen also appeared in November before the European Parliament, where legislators are drafting strict new rules to rein in technology platforms and their influence in the region.

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