Facebook whistleblower reveals herself, condemns company as dangerous

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Frances Haugen came out publicly on Sunday as the Facebook whistleblower whose revelations have in recent weeks prompted a congressional investigation into the company, public hearings with its executives and extensive reporting in The Wall Street Journal about the social network’s harmful effects on young children and teens.

The social media giant has since faced intense backlash from critics outraged by its plans to expand into that market despite being aware of the dangers it could pose to younger users.

Haugen’s name was disclosed on Sunday night by The Wall Street Journal, and she also appeared in a segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was that there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” she told CBS interviewer Scott Pelley. “And Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interests.”

Haugen, 37, was described on “60 Minutes” as a data scientist from Iowa who began working at Facebook starting in 2019. Her decision to come forward to Congress and the media with a trove of internal documents about company research and projects has pulled back the curtain on its practices at a time when Facebook has been criticized for not being transparent about a host of platform issues, ranging from children’s safety to Covid misinformation, online advertising and algorithmic decision-making.

The whistleblower’s disclosures pose one of the biggest threats to Facebook since the Cambridge Analytica data scandal in 2018. Close observers say the bipartisan fury over the company’s behavior may this time be deep enough for lawmakers in Washington to take action against Facebook and other apps targeting children.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Commerce consumer protection panel, put out a statement on Sunday evening to preview this week’s hearing, which is titled “Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from a Facebook Whistleblower.” They said Haugen had provided information to, and been cooperating with, their offices.

“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” Haugen told Pelley in the “60 Minutes” interview. She said she began copying and removing documents from Facebook earlier this year; some of the material first appeared in The Wall Street Journal before her TV interview.

Haugen said that Facebook “optimizes” content that draws a reaction. She also said the company understands that hateful content is more likely to do that than more pleasant material does.

“Its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing — it is easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions,” Haugen said.

Last week, Facebook halted plans for a kid-friendly version of its Instagram app.

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