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Facebook Whistleblower Says It Keeps Choosing Profits Over Users’ Safety
By Alexa Heah, 05 Oct 2021
Image via Chinnapong / Shutterstock.com
Facebook’s problems just keep getting worse. Just before its platforms experienced one of the largest outages, a whistleblower—who leaked that the firm was actually aware of its negative effects on teens—revealed herself on interview show 60 Minutes.
The leaker, who turned out to be Frances Haugen, had joined the company in 2019 after witnessing friends fall prey to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and fake news. She had wanted to “fix the problem from the inside,” but eventually left in April this year, with the view that its problems were inherently unsalvageable.
According to Input, Haugen said Facebook was so focused on increasing traffic to its platforms, that it consistently put profits above users’ safety. And this news, coming directly from an insider, will cause even more concern among legislators and the general public.
“Facebook chose over and over again to optimize its own interests,” she said.
Although it was already pretty obvious to onlookers, Haugen said the platform’s swamp of misinformation and hate was driven by an algorithm update in 2018, in which Facebook chose to amplify information users wanted to see on their feeds. While this was intended to increase engagement, it turned out that people reacted most strongly to divisive topics or conspiracy theories.
Some of the documents Haugen got away with showed that Facebook was keenly aware of the problems this algorithm had caused. The organization’s internal report noted that “misinformation, toxicity, and violent content are inordinately prevalent,” on users’ feeds. But it doesn’t seem that the tech giant was taking any action against that.
In response to the explosive interview, Lena Pietsch, the company’s Director of Policy Communications, released a series of statements undermining Haugen’s claims. She denied Facebook knew that hate was driving its engagement and profits, saying: “Hosting hateful or harmful content is bad for our community, bad for advertisers, and ultimately, bad for our business.”
“Our incentive is to provide a safe, positive experience for the billions of people who use Facebook. That’s why we’ve invested so heavily in safety and security,” she added.
It does seem Facebook is pulling out the big guns to deal with this PR nightmare, with even its Vice-President of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, making an appearance on CNN’s Reliable Sources to defend the platform. He said the whistleblower’s statements were “ludicrous,” and that blaming the platform only gave people “false comfort.”
This saga doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, with Haugen headed to the Senate to testify on the case. Will Facebook be able to mitigate the disaster? Or will it prove too much even for a global giant?
[via Input, cover image via Chinnapong / Shutterstock.com]
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