We now know that Frances Haugen, Facebook’s former civic integrity product manager, is the whistleblower who leaked Facebook’s internal documents to the Wall Street Journal. She was just interviewed on “60 Minutes.” And after listening to her, I no longer trust anything Mark Zuckerberg or Facebook’s communications team has to say.
On “60 Minutes,” Haugen told her story. Her team was tasked with attempting to identify and prevent violence stemming from Facebook’s policies in nations around the globe. She explained that she’d seen examples of Facebook misinformation “directly leading to people dying.” Soon after the 2020 election, when it appeared there were no violent uprisings in America, Facebook dissolved her civic integrity team. (This was before the January 6 insurrection, of course.)
Haugen determined at that point that Facebook had no real commitment to solving its problems, and began copying documents. She left the company and provided her information to news sources including the Wall Street Journal and CBS News.
Facebook prioritizes profits over public safety
Facebook “erodes our civic trust, erodes our faith in each other, erodes our ability to want to care for each other, tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” according to Haugen on “60 Minutes.” “I don’t trust that they are willing to invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.”
This conclusion does not require attributing malevolence to Facebook’s management. As Haugen points out, Facebook is “optimizing for content that gets engagement. Its own research is showing that content that’s hateful, that’s divisive, that’s polarizing,” is what gets engagement. It is easier to inspire people to anger.
In other words, changing the engagement focus means less time spent on Facebook. And amplifying hate, division, and anger is a crucial part of that engagement focus.
Haugen says Facebook needs to declare “moral bankruptcy” and start over again on its mission, which as currently interpreted, is damaging society. As currently constituted, she says, Facebook is “prioritizing profits over public safety.”
Facebook’s response is that it can’t fix its own problems
I found Facebook’s response fascinating. Here’s a statement from Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s director of policy communications:
If any research had identified an exact solution to these complex challenges, the tech industry, governments, and society would have solved them a long time ago.
This is bullshit. They may as well be saying “we give up, we created this thing and it is out of our control.” Which it clearly isn’t.
Facebook knows more about these problems than “the tech industry, governments, and society.” It has access to internal data that no one else has. It knows exactly what is going on. If it can’t solve the problems — the spread of misinformation, the promotion of violence, the prevalence of foreign actors, the proliferation of catfishing “women,” the exacerbation of societal divisions, and so on — there are the two possible reasons.
- Fixing Facebook would require more resources than the company is willing to dedicate.
- Fixing Facebook would decrease engagement and therefore revenue, so Facebook feel solving the problem is not compatible with its continued
There is another deeper reason that Facebook cannot change, as Haugen alludes to in a “60 Minutes Overtime” segment. Zuckerberg has been working on Facebook since he was 18 years old — basically, his whole adult life. Facebook — the application and the company — is his life’s work. He cannot see its flaws clearly, or imagine it differently, any more than you could with your own child.
Haugen’s lawyers, quoted in the “60 Minutes” segment, will be prosecuting Facebook for lying to investors and concealing material information, which, for a public company, is a violation of securities laws.
Congress should regulate the crap out of Facebook, because only by inflicting so much pain will it ever change.
Antitrust regulators should break it up into pieces.
Crush Facebook. It’s harmful to the world. And as Haugen shows, it will not change unless we — through our governmental representatives — force it to do so.
Here is the full “60 Minutes” segment if you want to view it.