Hate speech for profit: Facebook whistleblower reveals identity

WION Web Team
NEW DELHI Updated: Oct 04, 2021, 02:24 PM(IST)

Frances Haugen Photograph:( Twitter )

Story highlights

Haugen as an unnamed whistleblower shared documents with US lawmakers and The Wall Street Journal that detailed how Facebook knew its products, including Instagram, were harming young girls, especially around body image

The whistleblower who shared a trove of Facebook documents alleging that the social media giant knew its products were fueling hate and harming children's mental health revealed her identity on Sunday in a televised interview. Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old data scientist from Iowa, accused the company of choosing "profit over safety."

She has worked for companies including Google and Pinterest.  

In an interview with the CBS news show "60 Minutes", she said that Facebook was "substantially worse" than anything she had seen before. "Facebook over and over again has shown it chooses profit over safety. It is subsidising, it is paying for its profits with our safety," Haugen said.

Also read | Facebook protects elite users from its own rules: Report

"The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world," she added.

Haugen as an unnamed whistleblower shared documents with US lawmakers and The Wall Street Journal that detailed how Facebook knew its products, including Instagram, were harming young girls, especially around body image.

In the "60 Minutes" interview Haugen explained how the company's News Feed algorithm is optimised for content that gets a reaction.

The company's own research shows that it is "easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions," Haugen said.

"Facebook has realised that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they'll click on less ads, they'll make less money."

Also read | US lawmakers grill Facebook over teen mental health

 

She said that during the US 2020 Presidential elections, the company realised the danger that such content presented.

Therefore, it turned on safety systems to reduce it.

But "as soon as the election was over they turn them back off, or they change the settings back to what they were before, to prioritise growth over safety, and that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me," she said. 

She further added that "No one at Facebook is malevolent."

The co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not set out to make a "hateful" platform. But, Haugen said, the incentives are "misaligned."

Also read | Facebook documents show how toxic Instagram is for teens: Reports

Facebook's vice president of policy and global affairs Nick Clegg has pushed back at the assertion its platforms are "toxic" for teens, days after a tense congressional hearing in which US lawmakers grilled the company over its impact on the mental health of young users.

The lawmakers grilled Facebook over the potential harm its services are causing and its impact on the mental health of children. 

However, Facebook defended the impact of its products, saying Instagram has "affirmatively helped" young people. Its global head of safety, Antigone Davis, testified to the US Senate, about child protection.

Watch: Whistleblower's new allegations against Facebook

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