Frances Haugen: who is the Facebook whistleblower, and what did she say in 60 Minutes interview?
The Facebook whistleblower said the social media giant has been “unwilling to accept even little slivers of profit being sacrificed for safety”.
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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen made numerous blistering claims whilst giving evidence to MPs and peers scrutinising the online safety bill.
Ms Haugen revealed concerns about child safety, proliferation of hate speech and people being pushed towards extreme interests, saying the social media giant is “unquestionably making hate worse”.
The former Facebook employee left the company earlier this year, but photocopied thousands of documents and memos before leaving.
The files, known as the Facebook Files, have been reported on by The Wall Street Journal over the last three weeks.
Ms Haugen previously testified before the US Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security earlier in October.
Here’s what you need to know about who Frances Haugen is, and what the Facebook Files are.
Who is Frances Haugen?
Francis Haugen was a former Facebook employee, working as a product manager on Facebook’s misinformation team. She left the team earlier in 2021.
After leaving the tech company, she distributed a series of documents - known as the Facebook Files - to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The documents and internal memos were copied by Ms Haugen before she left. The files have been published and reported on by the WSJ over the last three weeks.
Before joining Facebook the 37-year-old got a degree in computer engineering and a Harvard master’s degree in business. As well as the social media giant, she has also worked for Google and Pinterest.
Speaking to The Boston Globe, one of Ms Haugen;s former engineering professors, Debbie Chachra, said she stood out for her intelligence, enthusiasm, and commitment.
Ms Haugen was recruited by Facebook in 2019 as the lead product manager for the civic misinformation team. When she left the copied thousands of files to expose what the company knew about the harm it was causing.
Speaking to Scott Pelley for the show 60 Minutes, she said: “I’ve seen a bunch of social networks, and it was substantially worse at Facebook than what I had seen before,” she said. “Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety.”
What are the Facebook Files?
The Facebook Files are a collection of documents and memos, gathered by Frances Haugen and published by the Wall Street Journal, uncovering knowledge within the social media company of the platform’s ill effects.
Ms Haugen said the files prove that the company used algorithms designed to prioritise profits over the safety and welfare of its users, including teenagers and people living in politically-unstable countries.
In an interview with CBS, she said: “Facebook over and over again chose to optimise for its own interests, like making more money,” she said, adding that thousands of pages of evidence show the company has lied about making progress to combat hate, violence, and misinformation online.
“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” she added.
Ms Haugen also said the social media platform helped amplify the Capital Hill insurrection in January 2021.
Other files within the leak show that Facebook was also facing a lawsuit from some of its shareholders, mainly over the suspicion that the company’s £3.7 billion payment to the US Federal Trade Commission to resolve the Cambridge Analytica data scandal was to protect Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from personal liability.
What did Frances Haugen say to MPs
Frances Haugen told the Online Safety Bill committee that Facebook safety teams were under-resourced, and the social media giant has been “unwilling to accept even little slivers of profit being sacrificed for safety”.
Ms Haugen also warned that the social media app Instagram was “more dangerous than other forms of social media”.
She said Facebook could make a “huge dent” on the problem if they wanted to but they fail to do so because “young users are the future of the platform and the earlier they get them the more likely they’ll get them hooked”.
“Facebook’s own research says now the bullying follows children home, it goes into their bedrooms,” she explained.
“The last thing they see at night is someone being cruel to them.
“The first thing they see in the morning is a hateful statement and that is just so much worse.”
Ms Haugen added that the company is filled with “kind, conscientious” people but systems that reward growth make it hard for Facebook to change.
When I worked on counter espionage, I saw things where I was concerned about national security and I had no idea how to escalate those because I didn’t have faith in my chain of command,” she claimed.
“I flagged repeatedly when I worked on integrity that I felt that critical teams were understaffed.
“Right now there’s no incentives internally, that if you make noise, saying we need more help, people will not get rallied around for help, because everyone is underwater.”
How has Facebook responded to the leak?
Facebook’s Vice President for Global Affairs testified to US senators last week, saying the leaks had failed to highlight the positive impact the social media platform had on young adults and teenagers.
Speaking to CNN, the former Liberal Democrat leader also criticised suggestions that Facebook was responsible for the Capital Hill riots in January.