Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen stepped out of the shadows Sunday after months of working secretly with lawyers, journalists and lawmakers to build a case against the company she’d once thought to change from within — but now views as fundamentally threatening to the whole of humanity. Haugen was once against thrust into the spotlight Tuesday as she appeared before a Senate subcommittee to testify about Facebook policies that placed profits before the mental wellbeing of children on its platforms.
Echoing her interview Sunday on 60 Minutes, Haugen said she joined Facebook in 2019 after someone close to her was “radicalized” online. She pursued a job at the company, she said, in an effort to improve internal policies long criticised for amplifying the most politically divisive content in order to generate engagement among its users. Facebook’s acute fixation with driving engagement — which translates into ad dollars, the company’s singular source of income — resulted in system that only serves to amplify “division, extremism, and polarization,” she said, “undermining societies around the world.”
“This is not simply a matter of some social media users being angry or unstable,” said Haugen. “Facebook became a $1.4 trillion company by paying for its profits with our safety, including the safety of our children. And that is unacceptable.”
At the top of the hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on consumer protection, raised the question of whether Facebook has known all along that children were becoming addicted to Instagram, the photo-sharing platform Facebook purchased in 2012. “Many of Facebook’s internal research reports indicates that Facebook has a serious negative harm on a significant portion of teenagers and younger children,” she said.
“Facebook knows that it’s amplification algorithms, things like engagement based rankings on Instagram, can lead children from very innocuous topics… all the way from something innocent like health recipes to anorexia-promoting content, over a very short period of time,” Haugen said, adding that Facebook’s internal definition of “addiction” requires that users be self-identify as having a problem.
“In the end,” she said, CEO Mark Zuckerberg bears the ultimate responsibility. “There’s no one currently holding Mark accountable.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.