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Who is Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen?

She previously worked at Google and Pinterest

Who is Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen?
Ivan Mehta
Story by

Ivan Mehta

Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh." Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh."

Over the last few weeks, the Wall Street Journal published a series of reports against Facebook, alleging the company allowed the proliferation of hate speech on its platform, and ignored the safety of teens on Instagram.

These reports were based on internal documents WSJ reviewed. Today, the whistleblower behind uncovering documents, Frances Haugen, appeared on the TV show 60 minutes to talk about why she decided to reveal some of Facebook’s secrets.

Haugen, 37, is a data scientist from Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in business. She was a product manager at Facebook assigned to the Civic Integrity group, which worked on risks to elections including misinformation. Prior to working at the social network giant, she’s worked in some notable firms such as Google, Yelp, and Pinterest. 

She left her job in May after the Civic Integrity group was dissolved. However, before leaving, she copied thousands of documents, which she subsequently leaked to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and WSJ. According to the New York Times, she also worked with Whistleblower Aid, a legal nonprofit that helps people aiming to expose potential wrongdoings.

During the interview, Haugen said that when she joined the company it was “substantially worse at Facebook than anything I’d seen before.” One of the documents she leaked indicates that Facebook takes action on only 3-5% of hate and 0.6% of violence and incitement content, despite claiming to be the best at it. 

She also emphasized that Facebook is creating divides in society, and content living on the platform can cause violence:

When we live in an information environment that is full of angry, hateful, polarizing content it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other, the version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.

In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook rolled out a change to an algorithm to potentially increase interactions between friends and family. Haugen said this change was at the root of the problems the social network is facing today.

She said that Facebook is not using safer algorithms so that you spend more time on the site. Haugen said the company did turn on some safety features for the 2020 US Presidential elections, but turned them off as soon as the elections were over.

Before Haugen’s interview aired, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources, and said it’s ludicrous to think that social media was responsible for the Capitol Riots that took place in January. 

Haugen closed out the interview by saying “Facebook over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety.”

You can watch Haugen’s full interview on the 60 minutes show here.

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