By Ranya Merchant—Editor-In-Chief
The formerly anonymous Facebook whistleblower has publically revealed her identity, leaving Facebook scrambling to combat mass media fallout.
In a tell-all interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” published on October 3, 2021, the whistleblower, Francis Haugan, explained why she leaked tens of thousands of internal company documents to the Wall Street Journal a month before. Haugan worked at Facebook for nearly two years as a product manager in the company’s civic integrity team before leaving in May due to a ‘moral dilemma’. Following her departure from Facebook, Haugan filed 8 complaints with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that Facebook was not disclosing research about its shortcomings from investors and the public.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was 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 interests,” said Haugan.
The evidence found in copied Facebook internal research provided by Haugan points to the company lying to the public about making significant progress against hate, violence, and misinformation. One study she found, from 2021, says, “We estimate that we may act 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.”
Scott Peller, 60 Minutes correspondent, asked Haugan if Facebook is aware their platform spreads misinformation and angry content to which she responded with a resounding, “yes.”
“Facebook has realized 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,” said Haugan.
“People enjoy engaging with things that elicit an emotional reaction. And the more anger that they get exposed to, the more they interact and the more they consume,” she added.
The crisis deepened for the social media network after Haugan testified under oath before a Senate Subcommittee on October 5, 2021, accusing Facebook of harming children, and weakening democracy.
Connecticut Senator. Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, said he had “heartfelt gratitude” to Haugen for “standing up to one of the most powerful, implacable corporate giants in the history of the world.”
Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Senator, was quick to establish his support for Haugan as well. “Here’s my message for Mark Zuckerberg—Your time of invading our privacy, promoting toxic content, and preying on children and teens is over,” said Markey.
“We will not allow your company to harm our children and our families and our democracy any longer,” he added.
The night before Haugan’s testimony, Facebook and its other platforms—Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger—shut down globally for 6 hours.
Facebook said a faulty configuration change is to blame for the outage but Enderle Group tech analyst, Rob Enderle, says it was a result of Haugan’s forthcoming. “The timing of the whistleblower with this outage would indicate that there probably needs to be an investigation as to whether this was done intentionally by Facebook or not,” says Enderle.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a 1,316-word statement on his personal Facebook page addressing the service outage and Haugen’s statements.
“Now that today’s testimony is over, I wanted to reflect on the public debate we’re in,” said Zuckerberg in his letter. “I’m sure many of you have found the recent coverage hard to read because it just doesn’t reflect the company we know. We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being, and mental health.”
“Many of the claims don’t make any sense. If we wanted to ignore research, why would we create an industry-leading research program to understand these important issues in the first place? If we didn’t care about fighting harmful content, then why would we employ so many more people dedicated to this than any other company in our space — even ones larger than us,” he added.
Still, the greater public remains on Haugan’s side as they await the results of her testimony in congress.
“Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror today, and yet, rather than taking responsibility and showing leadership, Mr. Zuckerberg is going sailing. No apologies, no admission, no action, nothing to see here. Mark Zuckerberg, you need to come before this committee you and explain to Francis Haugen, to us, to the world, and to the parents of America what you were doing and why you did it,” said Blumenthal.