A former Facebook whistleblower responsible for a series of bombshell leaks has revealed her identity.
Frances Haugen, 37, who worked as a product manager on the civic integrity team at Facebook, was interviewed on Sunday by CBS.
She said the documents she leaked proved that Facebook repeatedly prioritised "growth over safety".
Facebook said the leaks were misleading and glossed over positive research conducted by the company.
In the interview, on CBS's 60 Minutes programme, Ms Haugen said she had left Facebook earlier this year after becoming exasperated with the company. Before departing, she copied a series of internal memos and documents.
She shared those documents with the Wall Street Journal, which has been releasing the material in batches over the last three weeks - sometimes referred to as the Facebook Files.
Revelations included documents that showed that celebrities, politicians and high profile Facebook users were treated differently by the company. The leaks revealed that moderation policies were applied differently, or not at all, to such accounts - a system known as XCheck (cross-check).
Another leak showed that Facebook was also facing a complex lawsuit from a group of its own shareholders.
The group alleges, among other things, that Facebook's $5bn (£3.65bn) payment to the US Federal Trade Commission to resolve the Cambridge Analytica data scandal was so high because it was designed to protect Mark Zuckerberg from personal liability.
But it's allegations about Instagram that have been particularly worrying to US politicians.
Internal research by Facebook (which owns Instagram) found that Instagram was impacting the mental health of teenagers but did not share its findings when they suggested that the platform was a "toxic" place for many youngsters.
According to slides reported by the Wall Street Journal, 32% of teenage girls surveyed said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.
Ms Haugen will testify before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday in a hearing titled "Protecting Kids Online", about the company's research into Instagram's effect on the mental health of young users.
Last week, a Facebook executive testified to US senators that the leaks had failed to highlight the positive impact the platform had on teens.
However, Ms Haugen was damning in her assessment of her former employer.
"There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook," she said.
"Facebook over and over again chose to optimise for its own interests, like making more money."
Facebook strongly denied that claim, saying it had spent significant sums of money on safety."To say we turn a blind eye to feedback ignores these investments, including the 40,000 people working on safety and security at Facebook and our investment of $13 billion (£9.6 billion) since 2016," said Lena Pietsch, Facebook's director of policy communications.
Ms Haugen also talked about the deadly Capitol Hill riots in January - claiming that Facebook helped fuel the violence.
She said Facebook turned on safety systems to reduce misinformation during the US election - but only temporarily.
"As soon as the election was over they turned them back off, or they changed the settings to what they were before, to prioritise growth over safety, and that really feels like a betrayal of democracy."
Appearing on CNN, Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said it was ludicrous to suggest Facebook was responsible for the riots.
"I think it gives people false comfort to assume that there must be a technological, or technical, explanation for the issues of political polarisation in the United States," he said.
CBC News: The National | Facebook whistleblower testifies, Joyce Echaquan, Movies in space
Oct. 5, 2021 | Former Facebook data scientist, Frances Haugen, told Congress Facebook harms children and fuels divisiveness. A Quebec coroner says Joyce Echaquan would still be here today if she was white. Plus, Russia is winning the race to shoot a movie in space.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen told a Senate panel Tuesday that Congress must intervene to solve the “crisis” created by her former employer’s products.
The former Facebook product manager for civic misinformation told lawmakers that Facebook consistently puts its own profits over users’ health and safety, which is largely a result of its algorithms’ design that steers users toward high-engagement posts that in some cases can be more harmful.
Though she stopped short of accusing top executives of intentionally creating harmful products, she said that ultimately CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to be responsible for the impact of his business.
Haugen also said that Facebook’s algorithm could steer young users from something relatively innocuous such as healthy recipes to content promoting anorexia in a short period of time. She proposed a solution for Facebook to change its algorithms to stop focusing on delivering posts that create more engagement and instead create a chronological feed of posts for Facebook users. That, she said, would help Facebook deliver safer content.
Haugen, who unmasked herself Sunday as the source behind leaked documents at the core of a revealing Wall Street Journal series about Facebook, testified before the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection. Haugen told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an interview aired this weekend that the problems she saw at Facebook were worse than anywhere else she’d worked, which includes Google, Yelp and Pinterest. She told the news program that she copied tens of thousands of pages of internal research that she took with her when she left Facebook in May.
“I saw that Facebook repeatedly encountered conflicts between its own profits and our safety,” Haugen said in her written testimony. “Facebook consistently resolved those conflicts in favor of its own profits. The result has been a system that amplifies division, extremism and polarization — and undermining societies around the world.”
In her prepared remarks, Haugen said she believes she did the right thing in coming forward but is aware Facebook could use its immense resources to “destroy” her.
“I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook,” Haugen said in her written remarks. “The company’s leadership keeps vital information from the public, the U.S. government, its shareholders, and governments around the world.”
Haugen said a turning point that convinced her of the need to bring information outside Facebook was when the company dissolved the civic integrity team after the 2020 U.S. election. Facebook said it would integrate those responsibilities into other parts of the company. But Haugen said that within six months of the reorganization, 75% of her “pod” of seven people who had mostly come from civic integrity left for other parts of the company or left entirely.
“Six months after the reorganization, we had clearly lost faith that those changes were coming,” she said.
In a statement after the hearing concluded, a Facebook spokesperson attempted to cast doubt on Haugen’s credibility.
Revelations brought to light from whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, has led to what may be the most threatening scandal in the company's history.
The pressure was turned up on Tuesday, when Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee. She provided a clear and detailed glimpse inside the notoriously secretive tech giant. She said Facebook harms children, sows division and undermines democracy in pursuit of breakneck growth and "astronomical profits."
Past controversies over Facebook's role in Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election and the social network's lax handling of user data in the Cambridge Analytica case were crises that rocked the company and spurred internal reform.
But the fury that Haugen's revelations have set off is different. Here are four reasons why.
Haugen was an insider, making her a powerful critic Haugen worked at Facebook for nearly two years after stints at Google, Yelp and Pinterest.
At Facebook, she studied how the social network's algorithm amplified misinformation and was exploited by foreign adversaries.
Haugen told Congress that Facebook consistently chose to maximize its growth rather than implement safeguards on its platforms, just as it hid from the public and government officials internal research that illuminated the harms of Facebook products.
"The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats and more combat. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people," Haugen testified.
Before Haugen left the social network, she copied thousands of pages of confidential documents and shared them with lawmakers, regulators and The Wall Street Journal, which published a series of reports called the Facebook Files.
"During my time at Facebook, I came to realize a devastating truth: Almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook," Haugen told Congress. "The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the U.S. government, and from governments around the world."
Haugen is not the first ex-Facebook employee who has raised concerns about the world's largest social network. But two things distinguish her: She is a compelling witness, speaking with conviction, specificity and depth. And she came armed with receipts to buttress her account — the thousands of pages of company documents that lay bare exactly what Facebook knew about its products.
Research shows Facebook coveted young users, despite health concerns Of particular concern to lawmakers on Tuesday was the impact on children by Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
Haugen has leaked one Facebook study that found that 13.5% of U.K. teen girls in one survey say their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after starting on Instagram.
Another leaked study found 17% of teen girls say their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram.
About 32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse, Facebook's researchers found, which was first reported by the Journal.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., accused Facebook of intentionally targeting children under age 13 with an "addictive" product — despite the app requiring users be 13 years or older.
"It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users," she said.
Subcommittee Chair Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., echoed this concern.
"Facebook exploited teens using powerful algorithms that amplified their insecurities," Blumenthal said. "I hope we will discuss as to whether there is such a thing as a safe algorithm."
Haugen told Congress that when outside researchers and lawmakers asked how Facebook affected the health and safety of children, the company was never forthcoming.
"Facebook chooses to mislead and misdirect. Facebook has not earned our blind faith," Haugen told Congress.
According to Haugen's legal team, Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, misstated and omitted key details about what was known about Facebook and Instagram's ability to cause harm.
Attorneys for Haugen allege that Facebook violated U.S. securities laws by lying to investors.
The documents were also shared with state prosecutors, including the California attorney general, Haugen's lawyer, John Tye, told NPR.
Federal regulators and state prosecutors have not indicated how authorities plan to respond.
Facebook is turning up the heat on Haugen, suggesting for the first time that she broke the law. Company executive Monika Bickert told CNN on Tuesday that the documents Haugen obtained were "stolen."
Federal whistleblower protections provide legal cover to Haugen in providing private Facebook documents to the SEC and Congress, but experts say her leaks to the press could trigger legal action from Facebook.