Facebook is putting profit before public good, says whistleblower Frances Haugen

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen came forward as the whistleblower who leaked a cache of internal documents to the Wall Street Journal, days before she is set to testify before US lawmakers.

In an interview with news program 60 Minutes on Sunday, Haugen discussed her decision to speak out about the internal workings of the tech giant, saying she had become alarmed by what she perceived as company policies that prioritized profit over public safety.

“There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” Haugen said. “And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”

Haugen on Sunday said the documents she collected and shared with the Wall Street Journal and US law enforcement show the company is lying to the public that it is making significant progress against hate, violence and misinformation.

“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world," sy het gese.

Haugen said she was recruited to join Facebook in 2019, after spending more than a decade working in the tech industry, including at Pinterest and Google.

She said she agreed to take the job only if she could work to help the company combat misinformation, saying the issue was personal for her – she previously lost a relationship with a friend after they descended into online conspiracies.

But Haugen said she soon began to feel Facebook was unwilling to take the action needed to address these issues, even though it had the tools.

“No one at Facebook is malevolent,” Haugen told 60 Minutes. Mark Zuckerberg “has never set out to make a hateful platform,” het sy bygevoeg. Maar, sy het gese, the effects of the company’s choices have been grave.

Facebook proved it could do more to address these problems when it changed content policies for several weeks surrounding the 2020 US elections, sy het gese, adding the company deliberately deprioritized political content on its Newsfeed.

But the platform soon went back to old algorithms that value engagement over all else, she claimed, a move that she said contributed to the 6 January riot at the Capitol.

“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, en [Facebook] will make less money,” Haugen said.

Haugen has been called to testify before Congress on Tuesday about the studies and other information she has gleaned from her time at Facebook.

Verlede week, lawmakers already grilled Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, over a Wall Street Journal report based on Haugen’s documents that revealed Instagram had learned from its own research that the photo app could have harmful impacts on children.

“Social media has had a big impact on society in recent years, and Facebook is often a place where much of this debate plays out,” Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president of policy and public affairs wrote to Facebook employees in a memo on Friday ahead of the interview. “But what evidence there is simply does not support the idea that Facebook, or social media more generally, is the primary cause of polarization.”

In a written statement to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone also pushed back against the allegations, sê, “to suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true”.

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