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France Haugen: The face behind Facebook’s troubling internal research leaks

France Haugen

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Facebook. Over the last month or so, you must have come across headlines aplenty, talking about the damning “Facebook Files,”—a series published by The Wall Street Journal. The series reveals how the giant’s own internal research data points to the fact that Instagram worsens body image issues for teens.  

And from what the former Facebook employee and whistleblower—who revealed her identity in an interview with CBS on 3 October—Frances Haugen says, there’s more to worry about.   

A 37-year-old data scientist from Iowa, Haugen has a degree in computer engineering and a master’s in business from Havard. In her 15-year long career, she’s worked for big names like Google, Yelp and Pinterest. Her stint at Facebook lasted nearly two years as a product manager for the civic integrity team, and she left the job in May this year.  

In what just might become the biggest blow to Facebook’s corporate world, Haugen made tens of thousands of copies of internal documents and shared them with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, members of Congress, and the Wall Street Journal, before she quit Facebook in May. While at Facebook, she spent time studying how the platform’s algorithm fuels misinformation, which is exploited often by foreign US government adversaries.

In her interview with CBS, Haugen said that she got exasperated with the circumstances at Facebook. The documents she leaked prove that the company has been making choices that prioritize money and profits over what’s good or bad for its users and society at large. 

“Imagine you know what’s going on inside of Facebook and you know no one on the outside knows….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 said on CBS’ program 60 Minutes.   

Over the pandemic, Haugen was living with her parents, and that’s when her mother, an Episcopal priest, encouraged her to go public with these concerns if she truly felt that there were lives on the line, according to Bloomberg.

To summarize, the data shared by Haugen proves what many have been suspecting for quite some time: Facebook has more lenient and secret rules for celebrities, politicians, and other members of America’s elite; Instagram worsens body image issues for one in three teen girls; and outrage was amped up on Facebook by tweaking the algorithm in 2018, possibly leading to the storming of the US Capitol on 6 Jan.

On Tuesday, Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee, painting a detailed picture of what goes on on the inside of the highly secretive tech giant. Talking about when outside researchers and lawmakers approached Facebook to ask how it affects the health and safety of children, the company was not communicative, she told Congress. “Facebook chooses to mislead and misdirect. Facebook has not earned our blind faith,” Haugen said.  

Monika Bickert, Facebook executive, told NPR’s Morning Edition denied that the tech company puts profits over safety. She cited the example of the platform halting political ads before the November presidential election. In a blog post on Tuesday evening, the CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was disheartened that their internal research has been misrepresented “and used to construct a false narrative that we don’t care.”

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