What is Going On With Facebook? Five Whistleblower Revelations
Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and related apps owned by billionaire CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his company were a chief topic of discussion yesterday (Oct. 4) thanks to a mass outage that lasted for hours.
CNBC noted that the six hours of downtime marked Facebook's longest-running outage since 2008.
Today (Oct. 5), Zuckerberg and his tech company are making headlines yet again. This time it's because Frances Haugen, a former employee-turned-whistleblower, testified in front of Congress about harmful side effects of spending time on the social media apps.
Haugen came prepared with facts to back up her allegations. According to AP, the former employee made copies of "tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents" before leaving Facebook's civic integrity unit.
She previously leaked the documents to The Wall Street Journal, which helped the publication with their Facebook Files series.
Haugen spoke about the decision to become a whistleblower in an interview on 60 Minutes.
Speaking in front of the Senate today, she alleged that the company is aware of this research, but that they have chosen not to act on it.
"Facebook's products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy," she said. "The company's leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won't make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people."
The Wall Street Journal noted that spokespersons for Facebook have called Haugen's knowledge into question.
One communications spokesperson, Andy Stone, took to Twitter to release a statement. He said Haugen "did not work on child safety or Instagram," both of which were issues she addressed during her testimony.
Later, he released a statement from Lena Pietsch, director of policy communications, which disputed Haugen's allegations but agreed "it's time to begin to create standard rules for the internet."
What exactly has Haugen alleged about Facebook? Read on for a cheat sheet that includes five main takeaways.
Frances Haugen made national headlines when she leaked Facebook's internal research. She believes that the company is purposefully hiding it.
“The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the U.S. government and from governments around the world,” she claimed in front of Congress.
“The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages.”
CBS noted that Facebook put together safety features meant to limit the spread of misinformation across platforms ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
This was allegedly done to prioritize "safety over growth and engagement."
However, Haugen claimed that the site eliminated those "safety systems" after the election took place, and prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
She has since filed multiple complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that Facebook had more of a role in the spread of fake news leading up to the attack on the Capitol.
"And as soon as the election was over, they turned them back off or they changed the settings back to what they were before, to prioritize growth over safety," she said on 60 Minutes.
Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne publicly disagreed with the allegations on Twitter.
Facebook isn't the only social media platform that has problems, according to Haugen.
The former employee leaked research on the Facebook-owned platform Instagram that purportedly showed how the application had a negative impact on teens, all in the name of engagement and ad revenue.
AP reported that one of the leaked studies show that 13.5 percent of teen girls said Instagram increased thoughts of suicide. A larger percentage, 17 percent, said the app made eating disorders worse.
“Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content," Haugen told Congress. "It’s just like cigarettes. Teenagers don’t have any self-regulation. We need to protect the kids.”
The New York Times reported that Facebook delayed plans to build a version of Instagram aimed at kids aged 13 and younger following the leak.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Haugen believes Facebook can be changed for the better. However, she seemingly believes regulations need to be put in place to facilitate this.
She pointed out that cars and cigarettes are regulated and the safety of both were determined with the assistance of outside oversight.
She seemingly implied that the first step to solving the issue of Facebook would be to ensure a transparent look at how the company functions and what they are seeing.
While Haugen may argue that transparency would be a good step, she did not agree with governmental desires to break up Facebook and Instagram.
"I'm actually against the breaking up of Facebook," she said. "The problems here are about the design of algorithms, of AI."
Haugen made it clear that she did not believe Facebook launched with negative intentions. However, she did not deny that things had seemingly gone wrong.
And there is one person in particular to hold responsible: CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
AP noted that Zuckerberg maintains more than 50 percent of Facebook's shares, which means he is able to call the shots with little to no oversight, even from other share-holders.
"In the end, the buck stops with Mark,” Haugen claimed. "There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.”
While it is unclear if Zuckerberg was aware of the research she released, the AP reported that she "believed" he knew of at least "some" of the information.