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The (no longer) hidden face of the Facebook Files

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On Sunday night’s 60 Minutes emission, Frances Haugen stepped out of the shadows. The whistleblower of the Facebook Files now has a name and a face. Ex product manager at Facebook for almost two years, she pulled out thousands of confidential documents from Facebook’s intranet showing that the Californian group is aware of the dangers caused by its social network, but yet has not taken any corrective measures.

An ongoing conflict between what is good for society and what is good for Facebook

Facebook’s ex-employee denounces the reform of the News Feed content sorting algorithms, enacted in 2018 to boost engagement, which led to the favouring of controversial content that attracts a lot of comments. “Facebook realised that if it changed the algorithm to make the network safer, people would stay on the app less, click on ads less, and it would therefore make less money”[1], she continues.

As she worked in a group in charge of ensuring that Facebook was not manipulated during the 2020 US presidential election, she found that it was possible for the platform to fix its algorithms to prevent the spread of misinformation. A month after the presidential election, Facebook dissolved the group, even as Donald Trump and his supporters disputed their defeat. It reinstated its old algorithms “to prioritise growth over safety”[2].

The group defended itself, with spokespersons arguing that “suggesting we encourage toxic content and do nothing about it is simply not true”[3].

A lack of sanctions

Before leaving the company last May, she copied tens of thousands of pages of internal documents, including a study showing that only 3% to 5% of hateful content, and 1% of violent or inciting messages posted on Facebook are reprimanded.  Not to mention the document detailing the Xcheck system and its lax moderation rules for certain political figures and celebrities…

Frances Haugen has filed eight complaints against Facebook before the Securities and Exchange Commission. Note that under US law, a listed company cannot lie to its shareholders or hide information from them. The thousands of documents were also sent to American and European politicians. “By hiding its own research on the danger of its products, it has tried to deceive public opinion and Congress” said influential US Senator Richard Blumenthal[4].

Frances Haugen will be interrogated this Tuesday by the US Senate, and she will be received in Brussels in November.

To be continued…

 

[1] Woitier, Chloé. “La Lanceuse D’alerte De Facebook Sort De L’ombre.” LEFIGARO, https://www.lefigaro.fr/secteur/high-tech/facebook-privilegie-le-profit-a-la-surete-selon-la-lanceuse-d-alerte-frances-haugen-20211004.

[2] Voir note 1

[3] Voir note 1

[4] Marin, Jérôme. “La Lanceuse D’alerte Qui Fait Trembler Facebook.” Cafétech, 4 Oct. 2021, https://cafetech.fr/2021/10/04/la-lanceuse-dalerte-qui-fait-trembler-facebook/.

 

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