A Facebook Inc. whistle-blower who turned over thousands of internal documents to U.S. lawmakers and the Wall Street Journal unveiled herself as Frances Haugen, a former product manager who has accused the platform of prioritizing profits over the well-being of its users.
Haugen gave her first public comments in an interview broadcast Sunday on “60 Minutes.” Haugen said she took tens of thousands of documents from the company because the harms Facebook poses are worse than what she had seen at other social media networks.
“You know what’s going on inside of Facebook and you know no one else knows,” she said. “I knew what my future looked like if I continued to stay at Facebook, which is person after person has tackled this inside of Facebook and ground themselves to the ground.”
Included in the trove of documents Haugen shared was a series of internal research slides outlining the impact that Facebook photo-sharing app Instagram has on the mental health of teenagers, reported in September as part of a series of stories by the Wall Street Journal. The research showed that using Instagram often makes things worse for young people who suffer from existing mental health problems, such as anxiety or body image issues.
Other company materials handed over by Haugen, who left Facebook earlier this year, shed light on internal discussions about the company’s content moderation efforts, how it treats high-profile accounts differently from other users, and the spread of Covid-19 misinformation on its social network.
Haugen also shared Facebook documents with U.S. lawmakers, and will testify Tuesday before a Senate panel as part of a hearing focused on “protecting kids online.” She filed eight complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to the segment.
Teen mental health
At a hearing on the same topic last week, lawmakers blasted Facebook, arguing that the company has focused on profits ahead of efforts to make its products safer for kids. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Facebook has “chosen growth over children’s mental health and well-being, greed over preventing the suffering of children.”
“We do not trust you,” said Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, the panel’s ranking Republican.
Haugen started working at Facebook in June 2019 after stints at Google, Yelp and Pinterest, according to her LinkedIn page. She received an MBA from Harvard in 2011, her profile says.
Facebook has pushed back on some of the Journal’s stories that used the documents to cast the company in a negative light, claiming that data used to highlight Instagram’s negative effect on teens’ mental well-being was “cherry picked.”
Still, the uproar that followed the reports led the company last week to halt plans to roll out a separate version of Instagram for children under age 13, citing the need for further consultation with experts, parents and policymakers. Facebook says it’s not abandoning the idea of building the app entirely.
“I still think building this experience is the right thing to do, but we want to take more time to speak with parents and experts working out how to get this right,” tweeted Instagram head Adam Mosseri.
Backlash from the leaked documents added to a long list of political headaches for Facebook, which has been under fire from lawmakers for much of the past four years for its handling of user content, its role in U.S. elections and its data privacy practices.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is also suing Facebook, alleging anti-competitive behavior. The FTC is seeking to unwind a number of the company’s landmark acquisitions, including its 2012 purchase of Instagram.—Bloomberg
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