We’ve learned a lot of damning information about Facebook over the last month. Internal documents published in the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files show that the social media giant knowingly encourages anger and divisiveness on its platform, despite real-world and political consequences. Now, the Facebook employee who leaked this information to the Journal is going public, just one day before Facebook is scheduled to attend a congressional hearing.
Frances Haugen joined Facebook’s Civic Integrity team in 2019, hoping to fight misinformation on the platform. This team was founded to mitigate Facebook’s negative impact on society—and to be clear, we’re not just talking about elections. A wide range of topics were studied by the Civic Integrity team, including the platform’s potential for violent abuse (something we saw in the genocidal 2018 Myanmar coup) and its impact on teenagers’ body image. (Assuming the service isn’t down, as it was for most of October 4th).
One of the Civic Integrity team’s greatest obstacles was a controversial algorithm that Facebook introduced in 2018. In Frances Haugen’s words, this algorithm encourages “hateful” and “polarizing” content, which elicits an emotional response from users and keeps them coming back for more. Facebook actually toned down this algorithm to slow the spread of misinformation during the 2020 U.S. election, but reversed its changes and disbanded the Civic Integrity team after the election ended.
Shortly after, insurrectionists used Facebook to help advertise and organize the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Frances Haugen then felt it necessary to collect “tens of thousands” of internal Facebook documents, including research and company communications, to share with federal authorities following the insurrection.
These documents confirm that Facebook encourages divisiveness on its platform, despite ample evidence that “hate speech, divisive political speech, and misinformation on Facebook and the family of apps are affecting societies around the world.” And while Zuckerberg insists that Facebook fights misinformation and hate speech, the company’s research shows that it “may [take down or punish] as little as 3-5% of hate, and about 0.6% of [violence and incitement] on its platform.”
Documents leaked by Frances Haugen also show that Facebook ignores evidence of human trafficking and other illegal activity on its platforms, especially when such activity occurs outside the United States. It also continues to develop an “Instagram for Kids” app despite internal research linking its services to body image issues and suicidal thoughts in children. (Facebook’s research explicitly states that its services are worse for children than other social media platforms.)
Congress will take a close look at Facebook’s leaked documents during a hearing tomorrow, October 5th. While we don’t know what’s in store for the Facebook, Haugen believes that she has offered undeniable evidence of the social media empire’s wrongdoing to the federal government and the press. As expected, Facebook is currently trying to minimize these claims and says that it’s doing everything it can to fight misinformation and violence.
Source: CBS News/60 Minutes