The Facebook whistleblower who caused a firestorm after releasing internal documents detailing how the company failed to address negative effects of its social media products came forward Sunday night on CBS’ 60 Minutes.
Frances Haugen, a data scientist who worked at Facebook as a product manager on the Civic Integrity team, said the social media platform has lied to the public about resolving hate and violence to increase traffic and engagement—and in turn, profit.
“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,” Haugen told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.
Haugen, 37, joined Facebook in June 2019 with hopes of improving how Facebook deals with misinformation after she lost a friend due to conspiracy theories online. By April 2021 she resigned, and leaked a massive trove of Facebook’s internal documents and research to the Wall Street Journal.
The identity of the Facebook whistleblower who released tens of thousands of pages of internal research and documents — leading to a firestorm for the social media company in recent weeks — was revealed on “60 Minutes” Sunday night as Frances Haugen.
The 37-year-old former Facebook product manager who worked on civic integrity issues at the company says the documents show that Facebook knows its platforms are used to spread hate, violence and misinformation, and that the company has tried to hide that evidence.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest 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,” Haugen told “60 Minutes.”
“60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelly quoted one internal Facebook (FB) document as saying: “We have evidence from a variety of sources that hate speech, divisive political speech and misinformation on Facebook and the family of apps are affecting societies around the world.”
safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and rabble rousing after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, alleging that contributed to the deadly Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
Post-election, the company dissolved a unit on civic integrity where she had been working, which Haugen said was the moment she realized “I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.”
At issue are algorithms that govern what shows up on users’ news feeds, and how they favor hateful content. Haugen said a 2018 change to the content flow contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together.
Despite the enmity that the new algorithms were feeding, Facebook found that they helped keep people coming back — a pattern that helped the Menlo Park, California, social media giant sell more of the digital ads that generate most of its advertising.
Facebook’s annual revenue has more than doubled from $56 billion in 2018 to a projected $119 billion this year, based on the estimates of analysts surveyed by FactSet. Meanwhile, the company’s market value has soared from $375 billion at the end of 2018 to nearly $1 trillion now.
Frances Haugen, who worked as a product manager on the civic misinformation team at Facebook, appeared on Sunday on the CBS television program “60 Minutes,” revealing her identity as the whistleblower who provided the documents that underpinned a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teen girls.
Facebook has been under fire after the Journal published a series of stories based on Facebook internal presentations and emails that showed the social media company contributed to increased polarization online when it made changes to its content algorithm, failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitancy and was aware that Instagram harmed the mental health of teenage girls.
Haugen will testify before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday in a hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online,” about the company’s research into Instagram’s effect on young users.
“There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” she said during the interview. “And Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interests like making more money.”
Haugen, who previously worked at Google and Pinterest, said Facebook has lied to the public about the progress it made to clamp down on hate speech and misinformation on its platform.
She added that Facebook was used to help organize the Capitol riot on January 6, after the company turned off safety systems following the U.S. presidential elections.
While she believed no one at Facebook was “malevolent,” she said the company had misaligned incentives.
Facebook published a statement disputing the points that Haugen made after the televised interview.