The Facebook whistleblower demanding accountability

The Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, has revealed that Facebook harms children and is damaging democracy.
The Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, has revealed that Facebook harms children and is damaging democracy.

Former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, has accused the tech giant of placing profit above public health. Haugen revealed herself as the Facebook whistleblower after leaking a cache of internal documents that place Facebook in a damning light. She shared the several thousand documents with the Wall Street Journal, revealing that the company was lying about its progress on handling misinformation and violence.

“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money,” she said.

Haugen joined Facebook in 2019 as a product manager on its civic integrity team, which focuses on election-related issues globally. She cites her decision to join Facebook as a personal mission to combat misinformation. However, her decision to expose Facebook stemmed from her shock at company policies that prioritized profit over public safety. “The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” she said.

“No one at Facebook is malevolent,” Haugen told 60 Minutes. She said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder “has never set out to make a hateful platform”. Despite this, the company still needs to take responsibility for its choices, she said.

2020 US elections 

She said that Facebook stepped up to combat these issues during the 2020 US elections by lowering the priority of political content on its news feed, yet it reverted back to older algorithms that contributed to the riot at the Capitol on 6th January. “Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on fewer ads, and [Facebook] will make less money.” In addition to this, after the election, Facebook disbanded the civic integrity team. 

“As soon as the election was over, they turned them back off or they changed the settings back to what they were before, to prioritize growth over safety. And that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me,” she said.

Instagram and the mental health of teenagers

One of the most damning pieces of evidence from the leaked information is those in relation to Instagram and its impact on women’s self-image. According to one survey in the leaked information, 30% of teenage girls felt that Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies.

“And what’s super tragic is Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this– this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more. And so, they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more,” she said.

Since then, Haugen has filed eight complaints with the US financial watchdog, accusing the social network of repeatedly misleading investors about its audience size and safety management.

All attention on Facebook

Facebook has received a lot of negative attention this week. In addition to the allegations made by the Facebook whistleblower, social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went offline on Monday for almost six hours. The three platforms, which run on a shared infrastructure, went down around 5 PM GMT, Monday evening. The outage impacted over 3.5 billion users globally. Zuckerberg has apologized for the crash, announcing: “Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger are coming back online now. Sorry for the disruption today — I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.”

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Amber Donovan-Stevens

Amber is a Content Editor at Top Business Tech