A former Facebook employee has accused the company of prioritising profit over dealing with hate speech and misinformation, reported AFP.
An unnamed whistleblower had shared documents with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and US lawmakers, revealing that "Facebook knew its products, including Instagram, were harming young girls, especially around body image", reported AFP. The documents provided by the whistleblower led to a detailed investigation by WSJ and a Senate hearing.
On Sunday, 3 October, Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old data scientist from Iowa, revealed her identity as the whistleblower who provided documents to WSJ in an interview with the CBS news show "60 Minutes".
Haugen used to work as a product manager on the civic misinformation team at Facebook. She also said her lawyers had filed at least "eight complaints with the US Securities and Exchange Commission", reported Al-Jazeera.
WSJ has published several articles that are based on "internal presentations and emails" of Facebook, showing how the tech giant "contributed to increased polarisation online when it made changes to its content algorithm", did not take any steps to "reduce vaccine hesitancy" and was also aware of the fact that Instagram was harming the "mental health of teenage girls".
Haugen, who has worked for companies like Google and Pinterest, said that Facebook was "substantially worse" than anything she had seen before.
"Facebook over and over again has shown it chooses profit over safety. It is subsidising, it is paying for its profits with our safety," Haugen said. "The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world."
She said the company "lied to the public about the progress it made to clamp down on hate speech and misinformation on its platform".
Haugen to Testify Before Senate Subcommittee on Tuesday
Haugen will now testify before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, 5 October, in a hearing titled 'Protecting Kids Online', which will talk about the company's research into Instagram's effect on young users, reported Al-Jazeera.
"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 optimise its own interests like making more money."
'Facebook Research Showed How it Was Easier to Inspire People to Anger'
Haugen explained "how the company's News Feed algorithm is optimised for content that gets a reaction". She said that Facebook's own research showed that it was "easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions".
"Facebook has realised that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they'll click on less advertisements, they'll make less money."
'Facebook Used to Help Organise Capitol Riot'
Talking about the 2020 US presidential election, she said the company turned on the safety systems after realising the danger such content presented.
However, she said, as soon as the election was over, "They turn them back off, or they change the settings back to what they were before, to prioritise growth over safety, and that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me," she said.
She said that Facebook "was used to help organise the Capitol riot on 6 January".
'Company's Incentives Were Misaligned'
She said no one at Facebook was "malevolent" and that CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not set out to make a hateful platform. However, she said the company's incentives were "misaligned".
Haugen's lawyer John Tye said she has also spoken with lawmakers in Europe and will appear before the British Parliament later this month.
He said the two are also interested in speaking with lawmakers from Asia "since many of the issues that motivated Haugen stem from the region, including the ethnic violence in Myanmar".
Later, Facebook published a statement where it disputed the points made by Haugen.
"We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content," said Facebook spokesperson Lena Pietsch. "To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true."
Meanwhile, Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said, "I think the assertion (that) 6 January can be explained because of social media, I just think that's ludicrous," Clegg told CNN.
"It's simply not borne out by our research, or anybody else's that Instagram is bad or toxic for all teens," Clegg added.
(With inputs from AFP, Al-Jazeera, Wall Street Journal)