Former Facebook employee criticizing Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) – Former Facebook data scientist stunned lawmakers and the public with revelations about the company’s awareness of the apparent harm done to some teens by Instagram and its accusations of dishonesty in its fight against hate and disinformation. Now she’s coming to Congress.
Frances Haugen has spoken out on a broad condemnation of Facebook, backed up by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents that she secretly copied before quitting her job in Facebook’s civic integrity unit. Haugen has also filed complaints with federal authorities alleging that Facebook’s own research shows it amplifies hatred, disinformation and political unrest, but the company is hiding what it knows.
After recent Wall Street Journal articles based on documents she leaked to the newspaper sparked public outcry, Haugen revealed her identity in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday night. She insisted that “Facebook, time and time again, has shown it prefers profit over security.”
The ex-employee challenging the social media giant with 2.8 billion users worldwide and nearly $ 1,000 billion in market value is a 37-year-old data expert from Iowa with a degree in engineering computer science and master’s degree in commerce from Harvard. She worked for 15 years before being hired by Facebook in 2019 at companies such as Google and Pinterest.
Haugen is due to testify before the Senate Trade Subcommittee on Consumer Protection at a hearing on Tuesday.
The panel examines Facebook’s use of information from its own researchers on Instagram that could indicate potential harm to some of its young users, especially girls, while publicly downplaying negative impacts. For some of the devoted teens to Facebook’s popular photo-sharing platform, the peer pressure generated by visually focused Instagram has resulted in mental health and body image issues, and in some cases, disturbances. diet and suicidal thoughts, research disclosed by Haugen has shown.
An internal study cited 13.5% of teenage girls as saying Instagram made suicidal thoughts worse and 17% of teenage girls saying it made eating disorders worse.
“And what’s super tragic is that Facebook’s own research says that as these young women start consuming this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed.” , Haugen said in the TV interview. “And that actually makes them use the app more. And so, they find themselves in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more.”
As the public relations debacle over Instagram search escalated over the past week, Facebook suspended work on a kids’ version of Instagram, which the company says is primarily aimed at tweens ages 10 to 10. 12 years.
Senators are eager to hear from Haugen.
“I look forward to asking him follow-up questions about why Facebook hasn’t taken action to fix the issues on its platforms, even when its own internal research reflects huge problems,” the Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a member of the subcommittee, told The Associated Press on Monday. “I want to discuss how Facebook’s algorithms promote harmful and divisive content, and how much Facebook is really benefiting our children.”
What is at issue are the algorithms that govern what appears on user newsfeeds and how they promote hateful content. Haugen said a 2018 change in the flow of content contributed to more division and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people together. Despite the enmity the new algorithms were fueling, Facebook found they were helping people come back – a model that has helped the social media giant sell more digital ads that generate most of its revenue.
Haugen’s criticisms go beyond the situation on Instagram. She said in the interview that Facebook prematurely deactivated safeguards designed to thwart disinformation and incitement to violence after Joe Biden beat Donald Trump last year, alleging it contributed to the deadly assault on the January 6 against the US Capitol.
After the November election, Facebook dissolved the civic integrity union where Haugen worked. It was then, she said, that she realized “I don’t believe they’re willing to invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous. “
Haugen says she told Facebook executives when they recruited her that she applied to work in an area of the company that combats disinformation because she lost a friend to conspiracy theories in line.
Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global security, faced a deluge of criticism from senators on the Commerce panel during a hearing last Thursday. They accused Facebook of covering up the negative findings about Instagram and asked the company to commit to making changes.
Davis has championed Instagram’s efforts to protect young people using his platform. She took issue with how the Wall Street Journal article describes what the research shows.
Facebook maintains that Haugen’s claims are misleading and insists that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that it is the main cause of social polarization.
“Even with the most sophisticated technology, which I believe we are deploying, even with the tens of thousands of people we employ to try to maintain security and integrity on our platform, we are never going to be absolutely at the top of that 100% of the time, ”Facebook vice president of policy and public affairs Nick Clegg said Sunday of CNN’s“ trusted sources ”.
This is because of the “instant and spontaneous form of communication” on Facebook, Clegg said, adding, “I think we are doing more than any reasonable person can expect.”
In coming forward, Haugen says she hopes it will prompt the government to put regulations in place for Facebook’s activities. Like other tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple, Facebook has enjoyed minimal regulation in Washington for years.
Separately on Monday, a massive global blackout plunged Facebook, Instagram and the company’s WhatsApp messaging platform into chaos, only gradually dissipating on Monday evening Eastern Time. For some users, WhatsApp worked for a while and then didn’t. For others, Instagram worked but Facebook didn’t, etc.
Facebook did not say what could have caused the outage, which began around 11:40 a.m. EDT and still has not been fixed more than six hours later.
Follow Marcy Gordon on https://twitter.com/mgordonap.
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