Here are five major allegations whistle-blower Frances Haugen has levelled against Facebook


Frances Haugen, a Facebook whistleblower, speaks during an interview with Scott Pelley on '60 Minutes'. The whistleblower who shared a trove of Facebook documents alleging the social media giant knew its products were fuelling hate and harming children's mental health revealed her identity in a televised interview. — Robert Fortunato/CBS News/60MINUTES /AFP

The whistle-blower whose revelations about Facebook have set off shock waves from Silicon Valley to Washington stepped into the spotlight this weekend.

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, revealed her identity Sunday on 60 Minutes as the person who leaked tens of thousands of internal research documents to lawmakers, regulators and the media. She said they showed the social media giant was concealing information about its risks to users, and about its progress in combating hate and misinformation.

"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 optimise for its own interests like making more money," she said in the interview.

She was also confirmed as the source for the Wall Street Journal's recent investigative series based on the documents, called The Facebook Files.

Here's what we know about Haugen and her allegations regarding Facebook:

Who is the whistle-blower?

Haugen, 37, is a former product manager at Facebook. Her personal website says she is originally from Iowa City and studied electrical and computer engineering at Olin College, then received her MBA from Harvard University.

She worked at Google, Pinterest and Yelp before landing at Facebook. In the 60 Minutes interview, she said she was recruited by the company in 2019 and said she would take the job only if she could work against misinformation. She was assigned to the civic integrity team.

In the 60 Minutes interview, Haugen said the root of the problem at Facebook started in 2018 when it changed its algorithms that pick and choose what users see. "Its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarising — it's easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions," she said.

Haugen's own turning point, she told 60 Minutes, came when Facebook dissolved her civic integrity team after the 2020 presidential election, and turned off safety systems that were used to reduce misinformation. She said she then realised, "I don't trust that they're willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous."

In response, according to the New York Times, she decided to copy reams of internal Facebook documents, taking them first to John Tye, founder of the legal non-profit Whistleblower Aid. She shared many of them with the Wall Street Journal, as well as with some lawmakers, and has submitted them in a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

She submitted her resignation in April and left Facebook in May, according to the Wall Street Journal.

What are her allegations about Facebook?

Haugen has said the internal documents shed light on a number of allegedly harmful practices by Facebook. Among them:

— Misleading the public: According to 60 Minutes, Haugen's complaints say the internal documents show that Facebook knows its platform amplifies hate, violence and political unrest, but that it conceals that from its users. She also told the program that she believes Facebook's reports on its regulation of Covid-19 misinformation and hate speech are not fully transparent.

— Misleading investors: Haugen's complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission also allege Facebook has deceived investors by making public statements that don't square with its internal actions, according to the New York Times.

— Harm to teens: The documents also revealed that Facebook knew that Instagram, which it also owns, is harmful to teen girls. These revelations were published in a story by the Wall Street Journal last month.

— Affecting global societies: Haugen said the version of Facebook that exists today is "tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world." The 60 Minutes report cites 2018's genocide in Myanmar as an example; Facebook has acknowledged it failed to prevent its platform from being used to "foment division and incite offline violence" there.

— Contributing to political polarisation that led to the Capitol riots: Haugen told 60 Minutes that the dissolving of her civic integrity team and turning off misinformation safety systems contributed to the US Capitol riot in January. She called those actions a "betrayal of democracy."

How has Facebook responded?

Lena Pietsch, Facebook's director of policy communications, issued a statement in response to the 60 Minutes interview. In it, she said allowing hateful content on its platforms is "bad for business" and that the company has "invested... heavily in safety and security."

"We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content," the statement reads. "To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true."

Facebook executive Nick Clegg on Sunday said blaming the Capitol riot on social media was "ludicrous."

"The responsibility for the violence on January 6, the insurrection that day, is squarely on the people who inflicted the violence and those who encouraged them," Clegg, the company's vice president for global affairs, said in a CNN interview.

What comes next?

Haugen will appear Tuesday at a Senate subcommittee to discuss approaches to updating children's privacy regulations and other online consumer protection laws. According to the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security's website, Haugen will share insights on Instagram's effects on teenagers, and how the social media outlet handles children who use it. The hearing, scheduled for 7am. PDT, will be livestreamed at www.commerce.senate.gov.

A British parliamentary committee is also scheduled to hear from Haugen this month, the New York Times reported, citing Tye. She will then appear at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, and meet with European policymakers in Brussels in November.

A federal antitrust lawsuit against Facebook is ongoing. Also, the company has said it will submit documents requested by a congressional panel investigating the role of major social media platforms in the Jan 6 Capitol riot. – San Francisco Chronicle/Tribune News Service

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