Who is Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen? What to know after testifying in the Senate

Frances Haugen, the old Facebook Inc.

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An employee who assembled documents that formed the basis of the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files series showing its platforms to be riddled with harmful flaws, appeared Tuesday before a Senate panel seeking to toughen the law protecting children online.

The Journal series, based in part on the documents as well as interviews with current and former employees, describes how company rules favor the elites; how its algorithms promote discord; and how drug cartels and human traffickers openly use its services.

Ms Haugen left Facebook in May after nearly two years. In a profile in the Journal, she said she had become frustrated with what she saw as the company’s lack of openness regarding the potential for harm from its platforms and its reluctance to address its shortcomings. .

She has filed for federal whistleblower protection with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In response to statements by Ms Haugen that she felt the company was putting user growth and engagement ahead of what she knew from her own research into the detrimental effects of its platforms, the Facebook spokesperson , Andy Stone, said, “Every day, our teams must balance protecting the right of billions of people to speak out openly about the need to make our platform safe and positive. We continue to make significant improvements to combat the spread of disinformation and harmful content. To suggest that we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.

1. Who is Frances Haugen?

Ms Haugen, 37, describes herself on her website as “an advocate for public scrutiny of social media”. She was born and raised in Iowa, the daughter of a physician father and a mother who left an academic career to become an episcopal priest.

She holds a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Olin College and an MBA from Harvard.

She previously worked at Alphabet Inc.

by Google, Pinterest Inc.

and other social networks, specializing in the design of algorithms and other tools that determine what content is served to users.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen detailed internal documents she gathered showing the negative impacts of the company’s products and urged lawmakers to consider stricter regulations. Photo: Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg News

2. What did she do on Facebook?

Ms Haugen is a former product manager hired by Facebook to help protect against election interference.

She started in June 2019, as part of the Civic Integrity Team of about 200 people, which focused on election-related issues around the world. While this is a small part of Facebook’s overall policing efforts, the team has become a central player in investigating how the platform might spread political lies, stir up violence and being mistreated by malicious governments.

3. Why did she decide to make her concerns public?

Ms Haugen said the company seemed unwilling to accept initiatives to improve security if it made it harder to attract and engage users, discouraging her and other employees. She came to see herself and the Civic Integrity Team as an understaffed cleanup team.

His team was disbanded at the end of 2020 and members have been redistributed to other parts of the larger integrity division.

Facebook’s Mr Stone said, “We have invested heavily in people and technology to keep our platform secure, and have made tackling disinformation and providing authoritative information a priority. .

Towards the end of her tenure at Facebook, Ms Haugen said she had come to believe that those outside the company, including lawmakers and regulators, should know what she found.

Ms Haugen said her outlook on social media changed after losing a friendship. The friend was spending more and more time reading online forums about how dark forces manipulated politics. In an interview with the Journal, the man recalled that Ms Haugen tried unsuccessfully to intervene as he gravitated towards a mixture of the occult and white nationalism.

“It’s one thing to study disinformation, it’s another to lose someone because of it,” said Ms Haugen.

When a Facebook recruiter got in touch in late 2018, Ms Haugen said, she responded that she might be interested if the post involved democracy and the spread of false information. During the interviews, she said, she spoke to officials about her friend and how she wanted to help Facebook prevent its own users from following similar paths.

4. How are the revelations from Ms. Haugen’s efforts different from previous criticisms of Facebook?

Facebook has struggled with intense criticism for years, especially after what US intelligence officials said was Russia’s use of the platform to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.

The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture to date of the extent of awareness of Facebook’s issues within the company, right down to the CEO himself.

Time and time again, the documents show, Facebook researchers have identified the platform’s adverse effects. Time and time again, despite congressional hearings, its own commitments, and numerous media briefings, the company has not corrected them.

Mr. Stone of Facebook said, “We have a solid track record of using our research, as well as external research and working closely with experts and organizations, to inform changes in our applications.

5. What did Mrs Haugen say in the Senate?

Ms Haugen told Congress that Facebook has focused more on profits than security and said lawmakers need to move beyond some of the legislative remedies under consideration.

“I have seen Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profit and our security. Facebook has consistently resolved these conflicts for its own benefit, ”Haugen told the Senate subcommittee.

“The severity of this crisis demands that we break with previous regulatory frameworks,” she said. “Changes to outdated privacy protections… won’t be enough. “

6. How did Facebook respond?

In a statement following the hearing, Facebook questioned Ms Haugen’s knowledge of the issues raised, calling her a low-level employee who is unaware of senior management decision-making.

“We agree on one thing; it’s time to create standard rules for the Internet, ”Facebook said in the statement. “Instead of waiting for the industry to make societal decisions that belong to lawmakers, it’s time for Congress to act.”

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on Facebook Tuesday afternoon that the company’s work and motives had been poorly described in recent media reports and whistleblower testimonies and promised that ‘he would continue to continue his internal research into the potential damage of social media.

“A lot of claims don’t make sense,” Zuckerberg wrote. “I think most of us just don’t recognize the false corporate image that is painted.”

Zuckerberg acknowledged the difficulty in the way children use social media, stressed the importance of the company’s research into tough issues, and reiterated his calls for more regulation of the industry.

This article may be updated.

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About Nicole Harmon

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