Ex-Facebook employee bringing sharp criticisms to Congress

Washington, Oct. 5 (BUS): A former Facebook data scientist stunned lawmakers and the public by revealing the company’s awareness of the apparent harm to some teens from Instagram and its accusations of dishonesty in its war against hate and misinformation. Now she is in front of Congress.

Frances Hogan has made a widespread condemnation of Facebook, backed by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job at Facebook’s Civil Integrity Unit. Haugen has also filed complaints with federal authorities claiming Facebook’s private research shows it amplifies hate, disinformation and political unrest, but the company is hiding what it knows.

After recent reports in the Wall Street Journal based on documents she leaked to the newspaper sparked public outrage, Haugen revealed her identity in a “60 Minutes” interview on CBS that aired Sunday night. She insisted, “Facebook, time and time again, has shown that it chooses profit over safety.”

The ex-employee challenging the social networking giant with 2.8 billion users worldwide and nearly $1 trillion in market capitalization is a 37-year-old data expert from Iowa who holds a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in business from Harvard University. She worked for 15 years before being recruited by Facebook in 2019 at companies including Google and Pinterest, the AP reports.

Haugen is scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection at a hearing on Tuesday.

The panel is examining Facebook’s use of information from its Instagram researchers that could indicate potential harm to some young users, especially girls, while publicly downplaying negative effects. Research leaked by Haugen shows that for some teens devoted to the popular photo-sharing platform Facebook, peer pressure from visually focused Instagram has led to problems with mental health and body image, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. .

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One internal study indicated that 13.5% of teenage girls said Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17% of teenage girls say it makes eating disorders worse.

“And what’s so tragic is that the same Facebook research says, when these young women start consuming this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed,” Haugen said in a televised interview. “And that actually makes them use the app more. And so, they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more.”

As the PR debacle grew around Instagram search last week, Facebook halted its work on the children’s version of Instagram, which the company says is primarily intended for young adults between the ages of 10 and 12.

Senators are eager to hear the news of Hogan.

“I look forward to asking follow-up questions about why Facebook has not taken action to fix problems on its platforms, even when its internal research reflects massive problems,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota. Subcommittee, The Associated Press on Monday. “I want to discuss how Facebook’s algorithms promote harmful and divisive content, and how much Facebook really makes money from our children.”

There are algorithms that control what appears in users’ news feeds and how they prefer hateful content in contention. Haugen said the 2018 change in the flow of content contributed to further fragmentation and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together. Despite the hostility the new algorithms were fueling, Facebook found that it helped keep people coming back — a pattern that helped the social media giant sell more of the digital ads that generate most of its revenue, the AP reports.

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Haugen’s criticism extends far beyond the state of Instagram. In the interview, she said, Facebook prematurely halted safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and incitement to violence after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, alleging that this contributed to the January 6 deadly attack on the US Capitol.

After the November elections, Facebook dissolved the Civic Integrity Consortium where Haugen had been operating. This was the moment, she said, when she realized “I don’t trust that they are willing to invest what really needs to be invested to prevent Facebook from being dangerous.”

Haugen says she told Facebook executives when they recruited her that she asked to work in an area of ​​the company that fights misinformation, because she had lost a friend to online conspiracy theories.

Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global safety, faced a barrage of criticism from senators on the Commerce Committee at a hearing last Thursday. They accused Facebook of hiding negative findings about Instagram and demanded the company commit to making changes.

Davis has defended Instagram’s efforts to protect young people using his platform. I disputed the way the Wall Street Journal describes what the research shows.

Facebook asserts that Haugen’s claims are misleading and insists that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that this is the main cause of social polarization.

“Even with the most advanced technology, which I think we’re deploying, even with tens of thousands of people we hire to try and maintain safety and integrity on our platform, we’re never going to be on top of that 100% at the time,” said Nick Clegg, Vice President of Policy and Facebook Public Affairs, on Sunday in “Reliable Sources” on CNN.

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Clegg said that’s because of the “spontaneous and immediate form of communication” on Facebook, adding, “I think we’re doing more than any reasonable person would expect.”

Haugen says it hopes that going forward it will help motivate the government to put in place regulations for Facebook’s activities. Like fellow tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple, Facebook has for years enjoyed minimal regulation in Washington.

Separately on Monday, a major global outage wreaked havoc on Facebook, Instagram and the company’s WhatsApp messaging platform, only to dissipate gradually by late Monday ET. For some users, WhatsApp has been working for some time, then not. For others, Instagram was working but not Facebook, etc.

Facebook didn’t say what might have caused the outage, which started around 11:40 a.m. EDT and was not fixed more than six hours later.

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