Whistleblower Contends Facebook Values Profits Over Safety

Whistleblower Frances Haugen said on “60 Minutes” Sunday night that Facebook was cognizant of problems with apps, including Instagram, that allowed misinformation to be spread and caused societal harm, especially among young girls. Haugen revealed on the CBS news show to be the source of documents leaked to The Wall Street Journal that led to congressional inquiry. She also filed eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging Facebook hid research from investors and the public. The former product manager worked for nearly two years on the civic integrity team before exiting the social network in May.

Haugen released tens of thousands of pages of internal Facebook research and documents “taking a personal risk to hold a trillion-dollar company accountable,” writes The New York Times. Among those with whom Haugen shared portions of the incriminating material: Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee).

Haugen is scheduled to testify on October 5 before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection about Facebook’s impact on minors.

In her “60 Minutes” interview, Haugen painted a picture of Facebook facing “conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook” and repeatedly choosing “to optimize for its own interests, like making more money,” according to CNN’s report of the interview.

“One of the consequences of how Facebook is picking out that content today is that it is optimizing for content that gets engagement, a reaction, but its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions,” said Haugen. Facebook recognizes that “if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money,” she added.

Facebook decisively pushed back against the criticism, calling the “60 Minutes” segment “a misleading story about the research we do to improve our products.”

“The segment also disregards the significant investments we make to keep people safe on our platform and seeks to impugn the motivations of our company,” explained Facebook spokesperson Lena Pietsch. “Every day our teams have to balance protecting the ability of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place.”

Facebook now has some 63,000 employees, and it’s feeling the sting from some of them, as well as others. In 2018 Christopher Wylie, a former employee at Cambridge Analytica, shared with the media that Facebook had improperly allowed its data to be used to build voter profiles without users’ consent.

Related:
Facebook Is Weaker Than We Knew, The New York Times, 10/4/21
Leak Shows Facebook’s Business Model Needs Regulating, Says MEP, TechCrunch, 10/4/21
Why This Facebook Scandal Is Different, Vox, 10/3/21
The Facebook Whistleblower, Frances Haugen, Says She Wants to Fix the Company, Not Harm It, The Wall Street Journal, 10/3/21
9 Horrifying Facts from the Facebook Whistleblower’s New 60 Minutes Interview, Gizmodo, 10/3/21
Facebook Struggles to Quell Uproar Over Instagram’s Effect on Teens, The New York Times, 10/1/21