Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen could prove to be one of the most important figures in social media-age history.
Amongst many allegations backed up by thousands of leaked internal company documents, she has accused Facebook of targeting children and steering them towards harmful posts that they know damage their mental health.
Haugen has also claimed the company, in their pursuit of maximum profit, willingly deceived investors and the US Congress about their supposed lack of ability to crack down on fake-news and hate speech.
Who is Frances Haugen?
Haugen is a Facebook whistleblower who, through leaked internal documents, has shone a light on some of the multi-billionaire dollar company’s more shady practices.
“When I look at what I did, this was not my plan A. It wasn’t my plan B, it wasn’t my plan C. It was like my plan J or something. No one sat me down and said ‘what I want you to do is whistleblow’,” Haugen said.
“During my time at Facebook, I came to realise a devastating truth: Almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook.”
A former employee of Facebook, she disclosed tens of thousands of the company’s internal documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and The Wall Street Journal.
Born in Iowa City, after she graduated Harvard University she started her career at Google, where she was a technical co-founder of the desktop dating app which later became Hinge.
By trade, Haugen is a data engineer and has stated her desire to found a new non-profit charity aiming to reform social media.
Recruited by Facebook in 2018, Haugen expressed an interest in working on projects related to misinformation and became product manager in the civic integrity department.
While in her role, which ended in May 2021, she decided to become a whistleblower after seeing what she describes as a sustained pattern of profiting from civil unrest and dangerous fake news.
On October 5, 2021, Haugen made an explosive testimony at Congress, revealing to the public what many had already suspected.
What did Frances Haugen say?
In one of Haugen’s leaked documents, it appears to show a Facebook study found 13.5 per cent of UK teen girls say their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after starting Instagram, a Facebook product.
Another leaked study found 17 per cent of teen females say their eating disorders got worse after using the app, while 32 per cent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.
Haugen alleges Facebook knows their products are harmful to the mental health of children, yet continue to push users to content that is likely to affect their mental well-being with addictive algorithms.
During Haugen’s testimony, Senator Ed Markey claimed: ” Facebook is like Big Tobacco, enticing young kids with that first cigarettes.”
Facebook algorithm favours right-wing news
Haugen alleges Facebook promotes right-wing, dangerous misinformation that can cause real-world violence.
She claims when engagement-based ranking of ‘stories’ is placed above integrity and fact-checking, the company is “literally fanning ethnic violence”.
The whistleblower indicated that in India, the social media platform’s algorithm promoted anti-Muslim stories that were intended to incite violence and fear-mongering.
“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 claimed.
Haugen’s legal representatives have filed eight complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which includes Facebook’s public statements around what they knew about how organisers of the January 6, US Capitol riot used the platform.
According to Haugen’s team, Facebook executives including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, misstated and omitted key details about their knowledge of Facebook and Instagram’s potential harm and role in the attack.
She claims Facebook lied to investors about their ability to detect and remove hate speech.
In riposte, Facebook have stated the documents which Haugen used in her testimonies were ‘stolen’ and can’t be trusted as reliable.