Whistle-Blower Says Facebook ‘Chooses Profits Over Safety’

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Former Facebook product manager Frans Haugen revealed that she had provided internal company documents to journalists and others.

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John Tye, the founder of Whistleblower Aid, a legal nonprofit that represents potential law breakers, was contacted this spring through an interpersonal relationship by a woman who claimed to work at Facebook .


The woman told Mr. Ty and his team something interesting: she had access to tens of thousands of pages of internal documents from the world’s largest social network. In a series of calls, he sought legal protection and a way to release confidential information. Mr Tye, who said he understood the gravity of what the woman came up with “in a matter of minutes”, agreed to represent him and call him “Sean”.

She is “a very courageous person and taking personal risks to hold a trillion dollar company accountable,” he said.

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On Sunday, Frances Haugen revealed herself as the whistleblower against Facebook. A product manager who worked on the social network’s civil misinformation team before leaving in May has used documents she collected to uncover how much the company knew about the damage it caused and provided evidence to lawmakers, regulators. Media.

In an interview with “60 Minutes”, 37-year-old Ms. Haugen said, “I’ve seen a bunch of social networks and it was much worse on Facebook than it was before.” “Facebook has shown time and again that it chooses advantage over security,” he said.

Ms Haugen gave several Facebook documents to The Wall Street Journal, which began publishing the findings last month. Disclosures – Including Facebook Knew Instagram was making body image issues worse Among juveniles—and that it had a two-tier justice system—has drawn criticism from lawmakers, regulators and the public.

Ms Haugen has also filed a whistleblower complaint Securities and Exchange Commission, accusing Facebook of misleading investors on various issues with public statements that do not match the company’s internal actions. And she has spoken with lawmakers such as Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, and shared subsets of documents with them.

The spotlight on Ms. Haugen is set to brighten. On Tuesday, she is due to testify in Congress about Facebook’s impact on young users.

Ms Haugen’s actions were a sign of how fast Facebook was leaking. As the company has grown into a giant with over 63,000 employees, some of them have become dissatisfied as it has turned from controversy to controversy over data privacy, misinformation and hate speech.

In 2018, Christopher Wylie, a disgruntled former employee of the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, set the stage for those leaks. Mr Wiley spoke to The Observer of London and The Guardian and revealed that Cambridge Analytica had unfairly harvested Facebook data to create voter profiles without users’ consent.

After this, more Facebook employees started speaking out. Later that year, Facebook activists provided executive memorandum and planning documents for news outlets including The Times and BuzzFeed News. In mid-2020, President Donald J. Employees who disagreed with Facebook’s decision to drop a controversial Trump post staged a virtual walkout and Sent more internal information to news outlets.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “I think in the past year, there have been more leaks than I think we all wanted to.” said in a meeting With employees in June 2020.

Facebook has already tried to hit back against Ms Haugen. On Friday, Facebook’s vice president for policy and global affairs Nick Clegg sent a 1,500-word memo to employees detailing what the whistle-blower could say on “60 Minutes” and calling the allegations “misleading.” . On Sunday, Mr Clegg appeared on CNN to defend the company, saying the platform reflects “the good, the bad and the ugly of humanity” and that it seeks to “reduce the bad, reduce it and enhance the good”. was doing.

His personal website “An advocate for public surveillance of social media,” said Ms. Haugen. He was born in Iowa City, Iowa, studied electrical and computer engineering at Olin College and earned his MBA from Harvard. He then worked on algorithms at Google, Pinterest and Yelp. According to the website, on Facebook, she worked on issues of democracy and misinformation, as well as counter-espionage.

Ms. Haugen’s complaint to the SEC was based on her documents and included several cover letters, seven of which were obtained by The Times. Each letter details a different topic – such as Facebook’s role in spreading misinformation after the 2020 election; the impact of its products on the mental health of adolescents; and its disclosures about user demographics and activity — and accused the company of “misrepresenting and omissions in the statements of investors and potential investors.”

The letter compared public statements and disclosures by Mr Zuckerberg and other top Facebook executives to the company’s internal research and documents to lawmakers. In a cover letter, Ms Haugen said Facebook contributed to election misinformation and the January 6 uprising in the US Capitol.

While “Facebook has publicized its work to combat misinformation and violent extremism related to the 2020 election and insurgency,” Ms Hogen’s documents tell a different story, the cover letter read. “Indeed, Facebook knew that its algorithms and platform promoted this type of harmful content, and it failed to deploy recommended or permanent countermeasures internally.”

Mr Tye said he was in contact with the SEC’s whistle-blower office and the Department of Enforcement regarding Facebook. The SEC generally provides protections for corporate tipsters to protect them from retaliation. The agency also offers rewards of 10 percent to 30 percent to whistle-blowers if their tactics lead to successful enforcement actions that carry a monetary penalty of more than $1 million.

The SEC did not respond to a request for comment.

After filing an SEC complaint, Ms. Haugen and her legal team contacted Blumenthal and Ms. Blackburn, Mr. Tye said. Lawmakers held a hearing about children’s online safety in May, which focused on how companies like Facebook were collecting data through apps like Instagram.

In August, Blumenthal and Blackburn sent a letter to Zuckerberg asking Facebook to disclose its internal research into how its services were affecting children’s mental health. Facebook responded with a letter that showed the positive effects of its apps on children and removed questions about internal research.

But Ms Haugen’s documents show that Facebook researchers have conducted several studies on the effects of its products on teens, Blumenthal said in an interview.

Facebook was engaging in “concealment and deception,” he said. “If Facebook really wants to be credible, they should release all the documentation.” In tweets on Friday, Mr Blumenthal also said the whistle-blower had provided documents about Facebook and Instagram that were “harmful”.

Some of Ms Haugen’s Facebook documents have also been distributed to the state attorneys general for California, Vermont, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Nebraska, Mr Tye said.

But he said the documents were not shared with the Federal Trade Commission, which has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook. This is because Ms Haugen “generally does not view antitrust as the most important policy approach,” Mr Tye said. “She wants to see meaningful regulatory reform focused on transparency and accountability.”

Ms Haugen has spoken to parliamentarians from France and the UK as well as a member of the European Parliament. This month, she is due to appear before a British parliamentary committee. This will be followed by the Webb Summit in November, a technology conference in Lisbon and stops in Brussels for meetings with European policymakers, Mr. Tay said.

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