WHERE PROFIT REIGNS OVER PUBLIC GOOD
YOU South Africa|21 October 2021
Frances Haugen has unmasked herself as the Facebook whistleblower and says her former employer’s products harm children and stoke division
NASIFA SULAIMAN

IT’S been described as Facebook’s “big jaw-dropping moment of truth” – similar to when tobacco companies admitted the stuff they'd peddled for years was addictive.

Facebook’s algorithm knowingly harms kids, gives people an insatiable appetite for hate, weakens democracy, and stokes division – all while the social media giant rakes in billions of dollars.

This is the thrust of damning claims made by a former Facebook employee who spent months gathering information on how the company operates, then leaked a trove of internal documents to the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper published a series of articles, called the Facebook Files, which exposed how the algorithm encouraged anger to increase user engagement and favored high-profile users, allowing some to post material that incited violence. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, damages the body image and self-esteem of children and leads them down a rabbit hole where they become obsessed with the next “like”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

For weeks, the identity of the whistleblower remained a secret – but then, in an interview on US news show 60 Minutes, the information-gatherer revealed herself as Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old who used to work as a product manager on Facebook’s civic integrity team.

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they’ve put their astronomical profits before people,” she said.

Two days after the episode aired, Frances testified before a US Senate panel, telling lawmakers how they should intervene to solve the “crisis” created by Facebook’s products.

“Facebook knows they’re leading young users to anorexia content,” she said. There are many problems but they’re “solvable”. “A safer, free-speech respecting, more enjoyable social media is possible. But there’s one thing I hope everyone takes away from these disclosures. It’s that Facebook can change but is clearly not going to do so on its own.”

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