For years Facebook has faced scrutiny for its misuse of consumer information, yet it has managed to evade indictment. Until recently, a whistleblower has presented the public with a story that Facebook cannot run from
Josh De Gracia
On Monday, October 4th, the world fell silent as Whatsapp, Instagram, Messenger, and Facebook coincidentally faced an outage the day after a whistleblower made a statement that enlightened the public of the tech giant’s malicious operations. That whistleblower, Frances Haugen, first went public the day prior in her appearance on 60 Minutes to share what was happening inside of Facebook’s secretive company.
She exposed the social network saying, “The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was [that] there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook and Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interest like making more money.” The whistleblower later made a testimony before the Senate subcommittee to fight for civic integrity and hold Facebook accountable for the damage it was doing to society.
Who even is this whistleblower? Frances Haugen is a data scientist with a Harvard master’s degree in business. She was hired by the company as a product manager to study how people interacted with Facebook and its subsidiaries. Facebook discovered that it can increase profits by programming their algorithms to share more polarizing media because offensive content caused more engagement between consumers. The company understood that if its algorithm was not attention grabbing, less users would open the app and money would be lost from its pockets. Haugen realized that nobody outside of Facebook knew of the company’s immoral activity and her colleagues had turned a blind eye to keep their jobs. The data scientist took it upon herself to let the public know the truth behind Facebook’s empty promises to keep its users safe.
Haugen and her lawyers needed irrefutable evidence to get congressional action that would put limits on the media which social networking companies’ sent out, and stop Facebook from further harming the public. Over the course of months, Haugen copied thousands of Facebook’s internal documents concerning the tech giant’s plans for weaponizing data to incite engagement.
One of the internal documents she leaked cited, “…we estimate that we may action as little as 3-5% of hate and about 6-tenths of 1% of V[iolence] & I[ncitement] on Facebook despite being the best in the world at it.”
Haugen went on to explain Facebook’s impact on Myanmar in 2018 when the military used its platforms to spread ethnic violence and tear the society apart. She also spoke on how Facebook used tactics to target teenage girls.
“What’s super tragic is [that] Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more and so they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more. Facebook’s own research says it is not just the Instagram [that] is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers, it’s that it is distinctly worse than other forms of social media.”
After she collected the evidence she needed to nail Facebook, Haugen and her lawyers went to the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) to submit the internal documents that she had been copying. Haugen was protected by the Dodd-Frank Act which prohibited companies from withholding their employees from sharing internal corporate documents with the SEC. Haugen also turned to the Wall Street Journal to get her story out to the people. She then made her first appearance on 60 Minutes which aired on Monday, the 4th of October, to let the public know of Facebook’s infringement of the law when it violated its responsibility by lying to its investors and withholding material information.
Haugen’s fight did not stop there. She appeared in court before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, October 5th, to present the disservice Facebook was doing to the public across its platforms. Haugen made a statement saying, “I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy.”
Senator Blumenthal sided with Haugen and agreed, “I think you’re showing them that there’s a path to make this industry more responsible and more caring…” Court was adjourned, but it was ruled that issuing CEO Mark Zuckerberg a subpoena was premature. The Senate subcommittee did suggest, however, that Zuckerberg should appear before the court voluntarily.
This isn’t Facebook’s first lawsuit concerning it’s misapplication of information. Facebook still hasn’t addressed the issues it has promised to resolve from the past. Haugen’s push towards civic integrity does not end here, but rather, we are witnessing the start of major events in the tech industry. That said, the most active users on Facebook’s companies, such as Instagram, are teenagers. These adolescents are still on their path to adulthood and therefore naive to the malevolence of the world which extends beyond their realm of being. Teens subscribe to trends mindlessly, unaware of the subtle tricks which corporate giants use to plant harmful ideas into their subconscious and attract engagement across their platforms. This puts more on the line in Frances Haugen’s fight to put regulation on Facebook’s algorithms and keep the future generations safe both domestically and abroad.