Facebook chose profit over safety: Whistleblower

The whistleblower, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, also asserted during an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that a 2018 change to the content flow in Facebook’s news feeds contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together.
In this photo provided by CBS, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen talks with CBS' Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes."(AP)
In this photo provided by CBS, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen talks with CBS' Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes."(AP)
Published on Oct 05, 2021 02:26 AM IST
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AP | , Washington

Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and rabble rousing after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in last year’s elections in a moneymaking move that a company whistleblower alleges contributed to the deadly January 6 invasion of the US Capitol.

The whistleblower, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, also asserted during an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that a 2018 change to the content flow in Facebook’s news feeds contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together.

Despite the enmity that the new algorithms were feeding, Facebook found that they helped keep people coming back — a pattern that helped the company sell more of the digital ads that generate most of its advertising.

“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,” said Haugen, who joined Facebook in 2019 after working at Google and Pinterest.

“And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimise for its own interests, like making more money.”

Facebook’s annual revenue has more than doubled from $56 billion in 2018 to a projected $119 billion this year, based on the estimates of analysts surveyed by FactSet. Meanwhile, the company’s market value has soared from $375 billion at the end of 2018 to nearly $1 trillion now.

Even before the full interview came out, a top Facebook executive was deriding the whistleblower’s allegations as “misleading”.

“Social media has had a big impact on society in recent years, and Facebook is often a place where much of this debate plays out,” Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president of policy and public affairs wrote to Facebook employees in a memo sent on Friday.

The “60 Minutes” interview intensifies the spotlight already glaring on Facebook as lawmakers and regulators around the world scrutinise the social networking’s immense power to shape opinions and its polarising effects on society.

The backlash has been intensifying since The Wall Street Journal’s mid-September publication of an expose that revealed Facebook’s own internal research had concluded the social network’s attention-seeking algorithms had helped foster political dissent and contributed to mental health and emotional problems among teens, especially girls.

After copying thousands of pages of Facebook’s internal research, Haugen leaked them to the Journal to provide the foundation for a succession of stories packaged as the “Facebook Files”.

Haugen (37), has filed at least eight complaints with US securities regulators alleging Facebook has violated the law by withholding information about the risks posed by its social network, according to “60 Minutes”.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021