Facebook’s meteoric rise to superstardom has not come without its detriments. Namely, that of stepping on the neck of American safety. Some of the breaches have been proven (Cambridge Analytica, anyone?) and some are still more like urban myths, like the one that says they can read your mind through your eyes while scrolling through their app.
While some of the more ridiculous accounts for the social network’s uncanny ability to show me an advertisement for Reeses just when I’m craving chocolate, or show me about biodegradable diapers when I’m missing my kids being small, we have to ask ourselves if we’ll ever really know what happened behind closed servers in the tech capital of the United States.
Even though we might not ever know the extent of the damage that everyone’s favorite social media superpower is doing to our psychology or the development of our kids, at least one woman wants the world to know what she knows about Mark Zuckerberg’s mammoth creation, and she’s risking her own safety to tell us.
The former Facebook employee has released a boatload of internal documents about the company’s practices and went on camera Sunday on 60 Minutes, according to a report in Deadline.
The woman, Frances Haugen, was a data scientist with the company until May of this year. She was tasked with working to combat “misinformation” on the social media platform. Haugen told correspondent Scott Pelley that the company is “paying for its profits with our safety.”
According to her comments on air, Haugen took copies of thousands of pages of internal research that showed how the platform actually amplifies hate speech, despite knowing how harmful it can be to young people. She, out of disgust and frustration with what Facebook is doing to the world, released the documents to The Wall Street Journal, and the publication shared some of those stories last month.
The WSJ’s revelation kicked Capitol Hill into gear (after all, no one is more hated on the right than social media for squashing conservative information, and no one is more loved by the left than social media … for squashing conservative information). Haugen’s attorney filed eight separate complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission, on the grounds that the company is making serious and material misstatements that will adversely affect investors.
“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,” Haugen said in the interview. “And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”
The courageous whistleblower is slated to testify before a Senate Commerce subcommittee on Tuesday, something the former FB employee seems ready to do. She talked during her 60 Minutes interview that she worked on the Civic Integrity unity at the company and that after the election the nit was essentially done away with, but “fast forward a couple months, we got the insurrection. And when they got rid of Civic Integrity, it was the moment where I was like, ‘I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.’”
Haugen put the blame for misinformation and hate speech directly on the shoulders of Facebook and how it has orchestrated its algorithm to work, saying that they are “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.”
“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,” she said. “
It’s widely accepted that the love of money is the root of all evil. On its face, whatever they can do to make more dollar bills (or Bitcoin, or whatever), it can be assumed someone will do it. But what else might they gain? Well, if it’s about taking control, they can create a problem with hate speech that only a stronger government can control, and if they’re in the pocket of that government (or that government is in their pocket), so much the better.