Facebook whistleblower: Who is Frances Haugen and what are her biggest revelations?

The social network is ‘tearing our societies apart’, the former Facebook employee said

Lamiat Sabin
Monday 04 October 2021 22:21
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A former Facebook employee turned whistleblower has revealed her identity after making a series of damning revelations about the tech giant.

Frances Haugen was interviewed on Sunday by CBS on the 60 Minutes show, saying that the social network repeatedly prioritised “growth over safety” and is “tearing our societies apart”.

Tomorrow (5 October), she will be testifying before a Senate subcommittee in a hearing about Facebook’s research into Instagram’s effect on the mental health of young people.

Who is Frances and what did she do?

Ms Haugen worked as a product manager on Facebook’s misinformation team before she left the firm earlier this year.

For the past three weeks, the Wall Street Journal has been reporting – in a series known as the Facebook Files – on internal memos and documents that she had copied before she left her job.

The 37-year-old data scientist from Iowa has a degree in computer engineering and a Harvard master’s degree in business.

Ms Haugen, who has worked for companies including Google and Pinterest, told CBS: “I’ve seen a bunch of social networks and it was substantially worse at Facebook than anything I’d seen before.”

What do the leaked files show?

Ms Haugen said the documents proved that Facebook used algorithms to prioritise profits over the safety and welfare of its users, including teenagers and people living in politically-unstable countries.

“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.

One study from this year says, according to Ms Haugen, Facebook “estimate[s] that we may action as little as 3-5% of hate and about 6-tenths of 1% of V & I [violence and incitement] on Facebook despite being the best in the world at it”.

She also said that Facebook helped amplify the Capitol Hill riots in January as it had only turned on safety systems temporarily to reduce misinformation during the US election.

Ms Haugen told CBS: “The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.”

Other leaked documents 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 about Instagram?

Facebook, which owns picture and video-based social network Instagram, undertook its own internal research that found that Instagram was a “toxic” place for young people. But it did not publicise its findings.

According to slides reported by the Wall Street Journal, 32 per cent of teenage girls surveyed said when they felt bad about their bodies, looking at photos of other people on Instagram made them feel worse.

What has Facebook said?

Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – who now works as Facebook’s Vice President for Global Affairs – testified to US senators last week, saying that the leaks had failed to highlight the positive impact the platform had on teenagers.

On CNN, he criticised suggestions that Facebook was responsible for the Capitol Hill riots – saying the allegations give people “false comfort”.

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