NEW YORK – A data scientist who was revealed on Sunday as a Facebook whistleblower said that whenever there was a conflict between the public good and what benefited the business, the social media giant would choose its own interests.
Frances Haugen was identified in a “60 Minute” interview on Sunday as the woman who anonymously filed complaints with federal law enforcement that the company’s own research shows how much it amplifies hatred and hatred. disinformation.
Haugen, who worked at Google and Pinterest before joining Facebook in 2019, said she applied to work in an area of the company that combats disinformation because she lost a friend to conspiracy theories in line.
“Facebook, time and time again, has shown it prefers profit over security,” she said. Haugen, who will testify before Congress this week, said she hoped that by coming forward the government would put in place regulations to govern the company’s operations.
She said Facebook prematurely deactivated safeguards designed to thwart disinformation and public agitation after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, alleging it contributed to the deadly invasion of the U.S. Capitol. United January 6.
After the election, the company disbanded a civic integrity unit where she worked, which Haugen said was the moment she realized “I don’t believe they’re ready to invest what must be invested to prevent Facebook from being dangerous. “
What is at issue are the algorithms that govern what shows up on user newsfeeds and how they promote hateful content. Haugen said a 2018 change in the flow of content contributed to more division and ill will in a network apparently created to bring people together.
Despite the enmity the new algorithms were fueling, Facebook found they were helping people come back – a model that has helped social media giant in Menlo Park, Calif., Sell more digital ads that generate the most. of its advertising.
Facebook’s annual revenue has more than doubled from $ 56 billion in 2018 to $ 119 billion this year, according to estimates from analysts polled by FactSet. Meanwhile, the company’s market value has grown from $ 375 billion at the end of 2018 to nearly $ 1,000 billion today.
Even before the full interview was released on Sunday, a senior Facebook official called the whistleblower’s claims “misleading.”
“Social media has had a big impact on society in recent years, and Facebook is often a place where much of this debate takes place,” wrote Nick Clegg, vice president of policy and public affairs at the company to Facebook employees in a note sent on Friday. . “But the available evidence just doesn’t support the idea that Facebook, or social media in general, is the primary cause of polarization.”
The “60 Minute” interview intensifies the spotlight already on Facebook as lawmakers and regulators around the world scrutinize the immense power of social media to shape opinions and their polarizing effects on society.
The backlash has intensified since the Wall Street Journal published in mid-September an article revealing that internal Facebook searches concluded that the social network’s attention-seeking algorithms had helped foster political dissent. and contributed to mental health and emotional problems in adolescents, especially girls. After copying thousands of internal Facebook search pages, Haugen disclosed them to the Journal to provide the basis for a succession of stories presented under the name “Facebook Files.”
Although Facebook claimed the Journal selected the most damaging information from internal documents to present the company in the worst possible light, the revelations caused an indefinite delay in rolling out a children’s version of its popular app. for sharing photos and videos. , Instagram. Facebook currently requires people to be at least 13 years old to open an Instagram account.
Clegg appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday in another preemptive attempt to soften the blow from Haugen’s interview.
“Even with the most sophisticated technology, which I think we are deploying, even with the tens of thousands of people we employ to try to maintain security and integrity on our platform,” Clegg told CNN, “We’ll absolutely never be on top of that 100% of the time.”
He said it was because of the “instant and spontaneous form of communication” on Facebook, adding: “I think we are doing more than any reasonable person can expect.”
Choosing to reveal herself in “60 Minutes,” Haugen picked television’s most popular news program, on an evening her audience is likely to be swollen as, in many parts of the country, she has directly followed. an NFL clash between Green Bay and Pittsburgh.
Haugen, 37, is originally from Iowa and has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in commerce from Harvard University, the same school as Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Haugen, 37, has filed at least eight complaints with US securities regulators alleging that Facebook violated the law by withholding information about the risks posed by its social network, according to “60 Minutes”. Facebook could in turn take legal action against it if it claims that it stole confidential information from the company.
“No one on Facebook is malicious,” Haugen said in the interview. “But the incentives are misaligned, aren’t they? For example, Facebook makes more money when you consume more content. People like to engage with things that elicit an emotional response. And the more they are. exposed to anger, the more they interact and the more they consume. “
Liedtke reported from San Ramon, California.
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