Whistleblower Says Facebook Knows It Is Harming People

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen to testify before US Senate, but has alleged the social network puts profits before clamping down on hate

Facebook has been rocked by serious allegations made by a former employee turned whistleblower, who at the weekend was revealed to be Frances Haugen.

Frances Haugen worked as a product manager on the civic misinformation team at Facebook, and she reportedly left the firm with thousands of pages of research documents.

Last week US Senators on the Senate consumer protection subcommittee asked tough questions of Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, over reports Facebook was aware of how its Instagram app harmed the mental health of teenagers.

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Facebook whistleblower

It came after the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had reported on leaked internal research which suggested that Instagram had a harmful effect on teenagers, particularly teen girls.

Days after that, the head of Instagram confirmed it was ‘pausing’ the development of the “Instagram Kids” app.

During the Facebook testimony last week, it emerged that a former Facebook employee would reveal her identity at the weekend in a US TV interview.

Facebook’s Davis said last week that Facebook would not retaliate against the whistleblower for sharing confidential documents with the US senators.

Frances Haugen then appeared on Sunday on the CBS television program “60 Minutes,” revealing her identity as the whistleblower who provided the documents that underpinned the WSJ investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teen girls.

On Tuesday she is set to appear in a hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online,” about the company’s research into Instagram’s effect on young users.

60 Minutes

On Sunday Haugen had accused the social media giant of repeatedly prioritising profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation.

She also alleged that Facebook had failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitancy and was aware that Instagram harmed the mental health of teenage girls.

“There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” she was quoted by Reuters as saying during the 60 Minutes interview. “And Facebook over and over again chose to optimise for its own interests like making more money.”

Haugen also said Facebook has lied to the public about the progress it made to clamp down on hate speech and misinformation on its platform.

She added that Facebook was used to help organise the Capitol riot on January 6, after the company turned off safety systems following the US presidential elections.

While she believed no one at Facebook was “malevolent,” she reportedly said the company had misaligned incentives.

Facebook reaction

Facebook of course disputed her allegations.

“We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content,” Facebook spokesperson Lena Pietsch was quoted by Reuters as saying. “To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.”

Ahead of the 60 Minutes interview, Facebook Vice President of global affairs Nick Clegg said on CNN it was “ludicrous” to assert that 6 January occurred because of social media.

Haugen has also spoken with lawmakers in Europe and is scheduled to appear before the British parliament later this month, it is being reported.