Whistleblower Frances Haugen reveals the depravity of how the social giant is “tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world”.
While not many people remember the name Christopher Wylie, the whistle-blower behind the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the same is not likely to be true of Frances Haugen.
The former Facebook product manager of its civic misinformation team has blown the case against Facebook’s profit motive over the mental health of its users wide open.
“Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety,” the 37-year-old, who has an engineering degree and did a Harvard MBA, told the famous television investigative programme 60 Minutes on Sunday night. Facebook is “subsidizing, it is paying for its profits with our safety,” she said.
Haugen’s massive cache of internal documents formed the basis of the Wall Street Journal’s explosive “Facebook Files” series of articles last month, as well as several complaints she laid with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
In one of seven covering letters to the SEC, she said the social network had made “material misrepresentations and omissions in statements to investors and prospective investors”.
The most damaging of these was that Instagram adversely affected the mental health of teenage girls, but didn’t. In Facebook’s own research from March 2020 it found that “32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse”.
But, as Haugen told 60 Minutes: “Facebook has realised that if they change the algorithm to be safer people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on fewer ads, they’ll make less money”.
She also gave these tens of thousands of pages of Facebook internal research to US lawmakers, in front of whom she was due to testify on Tuesday, the night the FM goes to print, unfortunately.
“When we live in an information environment,” Haugen said, “that is full of angry, hateful polarising content it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other, the version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.”
As the WSJ wrote: “Facebook knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands.
“Time and again, the documents show, Facebook’s researchers have identified the platform’s ill effects. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its own pledges and numerous media exposés, the company didn’t fix them,” the paper continued. “The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the chief executive himself,” it added with piercing effect.
Mark Zuckerberg knew. Of course, he did. The Facebook founder is a notorious control freak whose influence can be found throughout the social network he created to “move fast and break things”. Clearly, he doesn’t care whether he breaks democracy (as Brexit and Donald Trump’s election showed), people’s privacy or the mental health of his hundreds of millions of teenage Instagram users. As Monday’s WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram outage also showed, Facebook is now central to billions of people’s communication and many millions of businesses’ livelihoods.
In 2004, the 19-year-old Zuckerberg had a now-infamous text conversation with a friend, where he boasted he had “over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses”. When his friend asks “What? How’d you manage that one?” Zuckerberg replied: “People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They ‘trust me’.” His next line is all you ever need to know about Mark Zuckerberg’s attitude to his billions of users: “Dumb fucks”.
Never forget it.
This article first appeared in Financial Mail.