A former Facebook employee had filed complaints with federal law enforcement last month. The complaints said that Facebook’s own research showed that the platform amplified hate, misinformation, and political unrest. However, the company ignored the findings in order to continue making profits. Frances Haugen, the whistleblower says that Facebook cannot act independently and governments around the world should put regulations into place.
“Conflict of Interest”
Haugen says that the environment around us is full of angry, hateful, polarizing content that erodes our civic trust. “The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.”
She further says that she repeatedly saw conflicts of interest at Facebook 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.”
Copied Internal Research
In 2021, Haugen secretly copied tens of thousands of pages of Facebook internal research after realizing that she would have to get out enough information “that no one can question that this is real.” The documents show that the company is lying to the public about significant progress against hate, violence, and misinformation. One of the studies says:
“We estimate that we may action as little as 3-5% of hate and about 6-tenths of 1% of V & I [violence and incitement] on Facebook despite being the best in the world at it.”
The root cause of the problem
Haugen says the root cause of the problem is Facebook’s algorithm- which determines what users see on their news feed. Facebook made changes to the algorithms in 2018, which now enables Facebook to show the kind of content a user has engaged with in the past. It also optimizes the news feed to show the content that gets engagement or reaction.
Since people often react to content that inspires people towards anger or aggressive emotions, the news feed promotes such content which in turn helps keep the user glued to the platform.
“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money.”
Policymakers forced to take positions detrimental to the society
Haugen says that Facebook makes money when users consume more content.
“People enjoy engaging with things that elicit an emotional reaction. And the more anger that they get exposed to, the more they interact and the more they consume.”
One of the reports she copied says that political parties across Europe strongly felt that changes to the algorithm forced them to take extreme policy positions. They were saying to Facebook that the algorithm was forcing them to take positions they knew were bad for society, but they would lose the social media game if they didn’t take those positions.
Instagram is no alien to these problems
One complaint alleges that Instagram harms teenage girls, a piece of information that first appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Haugen says that Facebook’s own research also says that the way girls consume content is triggering eating disorders and depression, besides making them use the application even more.
“They end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more. Facebook’s own research says it is not just the Instagram is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers, it’s that it is distinctly worse than other forms of social media.”