The whistleblower behind charges that Facebook content is “toxic” and that the company knows it says she acted because she wants to make Facebook better, not damage the social media platform.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook computer engineer, provided thousands of internal Facebook research documents to the Wall Street Journal, which last month published a series of stories about the platform, including one that details how Facebook research shows that Instagram makes many teenage girls feel bad about their bodies.
On CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday evening, Haugen went public, telling the network that the world needed to know what she knew.
"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, and Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money," Haugen said.
Haugen, who previously worked at Google and Pinterest, said the research presented Facebook executives with evidence that its content is responsible for a growing amount of hate and violence around the world. But because anger often increases engagement with the platform, it can be highly profitable.
"I've seen a bunch of social networks, and it was substantially worse at Facebook than anything I've seen before," Haugen said. "At some point in 2021, I realized I'm going to have to do this in a systemic way, that I'm going to have to get out enough [documents] that no one can question that this is real."
How anger makes money
Haugen is not the first to call out the media for its role in stirring up anger, but she’s the first to present documentation. In his best-selling book “Hate, Inc.,” Matt Taibbi, former political editor at Rolling Stone, makes a case that the internet has caused even mainstream news organizations to focus on information designed to anger and energize viewers and readers.
“We started to turn the ongoing narrative of the news into something like a religious contract, in which the idea was not just to make you mad but to keep you mad, whipped up in a state of devotional anger,” Taibbi writes.
Facebook, meanwhile, has disputed the charges that it is toxic for society and said in a statement to the media that many of the inferences drawn from the leaked documents are “misleading.”
Either way, the charges may get a thorough airing this week in Washington. Haugen is scheduled to appear before a congressional committee looking into her claims.