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    Facebook Under Pressure: A Whistle blower Provides the Needed Evidence to the Senate to finally Request Radical Changes on the Platform

    October 2021

    I clearly remember in Facebook’s early days, its motto was “move fast and break things”. Little did they know at that time that the company would go on to break societies around the globe. I personally have written frequently about the threat of Facebook. Now finally we reached the moment of reckoning for our social media giant with the user base the size of multiple nations. It’s been compared to similar reckonings in Big Tobacco, Big Oil and Big Pharma. I’ve long felt Facebook’s damaging impact on our society, democracy, children, and health. Now, in an unprecedented move, we finally have someone from inside Facebook with evidence of tens of thousands of documents lying out facebook’s “moral bankruptcy”.

    A damaging picture in my opinion is coming into focus: Facebook knows exactly how destructive its products are and they aren’t doing everything in intentionally in their power to fix them. This new allegations finally show that time and time again, Facebook executives choose the maximization of profit over the public good.

    This month, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen delivered bombshell testimony before the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security. She initially joined Facebook as a product manager or Facebook’s Civic Integrity Team in 2019. Haugen has worked at other tech companies, from Google to Pinterest, but she claimed she had never encountered what she saw at Facebook, leading her to become a whistleblower. After weeks of build-up through revelations in the Wall Street Journal and the 60 Minutes Interview, Haugen officially went on the record outlining Facebooks alleged corruption in no uncertain terms.

    Interestingly enough, Haugen began her opening statement with the claim that epitomizes the problems at Facebook: “I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy. The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.

    Haugen’s testimony and corroborating documents alleged the Facebook has in my opinion repeatedly misled the public, The US government, and investors about its own research on how its products spread this information, faster anti-vaccines misinformation, foment hate speech, and impact the safety of children. This in my opinion are at least partly criminal offenses.

    Let’s start with this information and hate speech. Haugen points to earn algorithm changes in 2018 that was intended to boost engagement, and as a result, made an already destructive platform worse. According to Haugen and the documents she’s provided, Facebook ran a test where a user merely liked some political pages like “Donald Trump” and “Melania Trump”. Within hours, they were being recommended QA non content. Within days, they were being presented with other extremist content. We’ve all known that Facebook works as a radicalization machine, increasingly recommending more extreme and dishonest content. But now, thanks to the whistleblower, it’s being alleged that Facebook knows this too.

    While Facebook has publicly stated they have made massive progress fighting this information and hate speech, Haugen has provided an internal document that highlighted the study indicating the opposite; “We estimate that we may action as little as 3-5% of hate and 0.6% of V&I (Violence and Incitement) on Facebook despite being the best in the world at it”. Haugen went on to argue that this kind of hate speech proliferation has led to ethic violence in countries like Myanmar and Ethiopia. And closer to home, we’ve seen other troubling results.

    Facebook’s role in the disinformation campaigns executed in the 2016 and 2020 elections are widely acknowledged. What is now being alleged involves in my opinion some of the “behind-the-scenes” decision. Haugen claims that Facebook disbanded the Civic Integrity group she was working in immediately after the election and turned off safety measures that had been implemented ahead of the election. Haugen claims that this has helped foster the environment that led to the 6th of January attack on the Capitol. Haugen said also that after the election, she thinks Facebook removed those safeguards because they wanted to boost engagement. In response to me tweeting about this assertion Facebook Policy Communication Director Andy Stone responded: “I’m glad you wrote ‘thinks’ because the truth is we left a number of the measures on through Jan. 6, added additional measures following the violence of the Capitol, and made some of the changes permanent, like not recommending political groups”. Whether Facebook kept some measures on while turning off others, or not, the results weren’t great. The 6 January insurrection was planned and promoted on a number of social media sites, including Facebook. The lies about 2020 election spread like wildfire on the platform and years of radicalization culminated on the Capitol steps. While I still think Facebook’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump from the platform was a good move, it was in my opinion too little too late.

    One of the main reasons is Facebook scandal is different than others is that involves children. The recent hearing largely focus on the testimony and documents Haugen provided regarding Facebook research on its impact on teen girls. Haugen has provided a study from Facebook that found “13.5% of teen girls see Instagram makes the thoughts of suicide worse, 17% of teen girls say Instagram makes eating disorders worse.”

    Earlier this year Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a congressional hearing that “overall the research that we have seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits.” That runs obviously contrary to the data Haugen has provided. That data has not stopped Facebook desire to widen their reach among kids, which they call a “valuable and untapped audience.” It wasn’t until these documents were revealed that Facebook put their “Instagram for kids” project on hold. As I look at the totality of the revelations, this is in my opinion really the bottom line: it’s not just that Facebook’s business model incentives capturing attention at all costs, it’s that they take it to extremes. In my opinion it’s a choice. Some have given Zuckerberg the benefit of the doubt or claim he doesn’t truly grasp the damage his company has caused. But that excuse in my opinion can no longer credibly be made after Haugen’s presented evidence.

    This is why calls for regulation are finally becoming increasingly popular. Haugen actually asked for this during her testimony: “The choices being made by Facebook leadership are disastrous-for children for, public safety, for democracy that is why we must demand Facebook make changes”. Haugen call for changes to section 230, increase transparency and oversight of Facebook’s engagement-based algorithm seemed to get finally widespread bipartisan agreement among Senators. But it took in my opinion far too long!