On Sunday’s edition of 60 Minutes on CBS News, a former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower revealed that the titanic social media site has not been honest with the public about its efforts to root out hate speech, threats of violence, or the promulgation of misinformation across its multiple digital platforms, which include Instagram.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was 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 optimize for its own interests, like making more money,” said Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old data scientist who left Facebook in May. “I’ve seen a bunch of social networks and it was substantially worse at Facebook than anything I’d seen before.”
Before her final departure from Facebook, Haugen “secretly copied tens of thousands of pages of Facebook internal research. She says evidence shows that the company is lying to the public about making significant progress against hate, violence, and misinformation. One study she found, from this year, says, ‘we estimate that we may action as little as 3-5% of hate and about 6-tenths of 1% of V & I [violence and incitement] on Facebook despite being the best in the world at it,'” 60 Minutes reported.
Correspondent Scott Pelley asked Haugen what prompted her to identify herself as the source of internal documents that were handed over to The Wall Street Journal last month. She also filed at least eight complaints with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission about Facebook’s sketchy policies.
“Imagine you know what’s going on inside of Facebook and you know no one on the outside knows. I knew what my future looked like if I continued to stay inside of Facebook, which is person after person after person has tackled this inside of Facebook and ground themselves to the ground,” Haugen explained, adding that “at some point in 2021, I realized, ‘Okay, I’m gonna have to do this in a systemic way, and I have to get out enough that no one can question that this is real.'”
Haugen joined Facebook in 2019 to fight misinformation after “she lost a friend to online conspiracy theories,” 60 Minutes noted.
“I never wanted anyone to feel the pain that I had felt. And I had seen how high the stakes were in terms of making sure there was high-quality information on Facebook,” said Haugen.
The problem, Haugen elaborated further, is that posts that induce anger, rage, and tribalism typically generate higher rates of engagement. That, in turn, leads to Facebook raking in more money.
“One of the consequences of how Facebook is picking out that content today is it is – optimizing for content that gets engagement, or reaction. But its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions,” she said. “Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money.”
And despite some progress that had been made leading up to the 2020 election, Haugen said that Facebook immediately reverted back to algorithms that prioritized profits after voters cast their ballots.
In fact, Facebook was a primary source of communication for the organizers of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.
But the plague of toxic content is not limited to Facebook, Haugen stressed. Instagram also has its fair share of woes that has harmed its unsuspecting users.
“One of the Facebook internal studies that you found talks about how Instagram harms teenage girls. One study says 13.5% of teen girls say Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse; 17% of teen girls say Instagram makes eating disorders worse,” Pelley pointed out.
Haugen responded that “what’s super tragic is Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this– this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more. And so, they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more. Facebook’s own research says it is not just the Instagram is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers, it’s that it is distinctly worse than other forms of social media.”
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.