A Facebook whistleblower who brought internal documents to the Wall Street Journal and the US Congress with detailed information on the company’s research debunked before an interview she gave “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night.
Frances Haugen, a former product manager on Facebook’s civic disinformation team, has emerged as the source behind a treasure trove of leaked documents, according to her website. On her personal website, she said that during her time at the company, she “was always alerted about the company’s decisions that put profits above public safety – and put people’s lives at risk. As a last resort and at great personal risk, Frances did the brave act of whistling on Facebook. “
According to her LinkedIn profile, Haugen previously worked as a product manager at Pinterest, Yelp and Google. She also calls herself the tech co-founder of the dating app Hinge, and says she launched her predecessor, Secret Agent Cupid.
“I’ve seen a number of social networks and it was much worse on Facebook than anything I’ve seen before,” Haugen told 60 Minutes.
Haugen told “60 Minutes” that she left Facebook in May.
Jeff Horwitz, the journal’s reporter who wrote the series of articles based on the leaked documents, also shared Haugen’s identity on Twitter on Sunday night, revealing her as the primary source behind the stories.
The documents, first published by the Journal, showed that Facebook executives were aware, among other things, of the negative impact its platforms had on some young users. For example, the Journal reported that an internal document found that 6% of American users of teenagers who reported suicidal thoughts attributed the urge to commit suicide to Instagram.
Facebook has since said that the journal’s coverage includes only select data and that even headlines in its own internal presentations ignore potentially positive interpretations of the data, such as that many users are having a positive impact on their products.
“Every day, our teams must reconcile the protection of the ability of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to make our platform a safe and positive place,” said Facebook spokeswoman Lena Pietsch in a statement following Haugen’s identity disclosure . “We continue to make significant improvements to combat the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To say we’re promoting bad content and doing nothing is just not true.”
Haugen said she decided this year to make Facebook’s internal communications public.
Haugen, in turn, copied and published tens of thousands of pages of documents, “60 Minutes” reported.
Haugen pointed to the 2020 election as a turning point on Facebook. She said Facebook announced that it would disband the Civic Integrity team that she was assigned to after the election. Just months later, social media communications would be a major focus following the January 6th Uprising in the U.S. Capitol.
“When they got rid of Civic Integrity, it was the moment when I thought, ‘I don’t think they are actually ready to invest what needs to be invested to protect Facebook from harm,'” Haugen said “60 minutes.”
Facebook told the newscast that it had distributed the work of the Civic Integrity team to other units.
Haugen pointed to Facebook’s algorithm as the element that pushes misinformation to users. She said Facebook recognized the risk of misinformation about the 2020 elections and so added security systems to mitigate that risk. But, she said, Facebook relaxed these security measures again after the election.
“As soon as the elections were over, they turned them off again or reverted the settings to the previous ones in order to put growth over security,” said Haugen. “And that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me.”
In an interview with The Journal, published shortly after the article “60 Minutes” began broadcasting, Haugen said she found much of the research she took on Facebook’s internal staff forum that she thought was useful all Facebook employees are accessible. She looked for research by colleagues she admired, according to the Journal, which she often found in farewell mail citing Facebook’s alleged failures.
Haugen also told the journal that she openly questioned why Facebook had not hired more employees to, among other things, address its problems with the exploitation of people on its platforms.
“Facebook has acted as if it were powerless to cast these teams,” she told the Journal.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told the Journal that it “has invested heavily in people and technology to keep our platform safe, and has made combating misinformation and providing relevant intelligence a priority”.
Legislators were unimpressed by Facebook’s reactions to the journal’s coverage of Haugen’s revelations. During a hearing before the Senate Trade Subcommittee on Consumer Protection Thursday, senators on both sides of the aisle criticized the company and asked it to temporarily stop building an Instagram platform for children. Legislators said they did not believe that Facebook could be a good steward of such a platform based on the reports and past behavior.
The whistleblower is due to testify before the Senate’s Consumer Protection Subcommittee on Tuesday. Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis told lawmakers Thursday that Facebook would not take revenge on the whistleblowers for their disclosures to the Senate.
“Facebook’s actions make it clear that we cannot rely on it to monitor itself,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Who heads the subcommittee, in a statement on Sunday evening. “We need to consider stronger supervision, effective protection for children and tools for parents as necessary reforms.”
Haugen said she had “empathy” for Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and said he “never thought of creating a hateful platform and more reach.”
She called for more regulations on the company to keep it in check.
“Facebook has shown that they cannot act independently. Facebook has shown time and again that it chooses profit instead of security,” Haugen told “60 Minutes”. “It subsidizes, it pays its profits with our security. I hope that this has had sufficient impact on the world that they have the strength and motivation to actually implement these regulations. Hope. “
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