Facebook employees told to preserve internal documents for legal reasons

Move comes amid increased scrutiny of the social networking giant's operations.

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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee earlier this month.

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Facebook has instructed its employees to preserve all internal documents and communications since 2016 because governments and regulators have started inquiries into its operations.

The move, known as a "legal hold," comes amid increased scrutiny from regulators, lawmakers and the media over the social network's potential harms to users. For the past several weeks, the company has been grappling with the fallout surrounding Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower, who disclosed thousands of documents and internal communications that showed Facebook was aware of the dangers of its products but downplayed these effects publicly.

The Wall Street Journal also used some of those documents in its series known as The Facebook Files. A consortium of 17 US news outlets, including The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, then gained access to these documents and published their own stories, which started to roll out Friday.

"As you are probably aware, we're currently the focus of extensive media coverage based on a swath of internal documents," Facebook said Tuesday in an email to employees, according to The New York Times, which earlier reported on the order. "As is often the case following this kind of reporting, a number of inquiries from governments and legislative bodies have been launched into the company's operations."

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the legal hold was sent to employees on Tuesday evening but didn't comment on what led to the action. "Document preservation requests are part of the process of responding to legal inquiries," she said.

Haugen testified before Congress earlier this month, and her lawyers filed complaints with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging Facebook misled investors and the public about its role in fueling misinformation, hate speech and human trafficking along with the harms it contributes to teen's mental health.

In response to Haugen's revelations, Facebook is reportedly trying to reduce insider leaks by making some of its internal online discussion groups private instead of public. Facebook told employees earlier this month that it's limiting who can view and participate in some "Integrity" groups focused on platform safety and protecting elections, The New York Times reported.