After Frances Haugen’s interview on “60 Minutes,” we must assume the worst about Facebook

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.

  1. Fixing Facebook would require more resources than the company is willing to dedicate.
  2. 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.

Crush Facebook

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.

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  1. In 2009, when Facebook quietly converted millions of user profiles from private to public, I deleted my account completely. I get updates from family and friends by calling them and writing to them, and I get my my news through subscriptions to sources I trust. Every time a web page lets me know that I can’t go any further unless I log in with my Facebook account or open a new one, I turn away, secure in the knowledge that I’m making more time for myself to read a book, take a walk or putter in the garden. I can’t imagine how much time I would have wasted these past 12 years if I’d had my eyes glued to a Facebook news feed, and I’m sure that my life is more calm, more sane, and more fulfilling for that decision I made 12 years ago. The way to crush Facebook, my friends, is to walk away.

  2. Lo and behold, FB has done to itself what regulators never could: < $7B in value, and being roasted all day on Twitter while the 60 Minutes episodes resonate & the Jan 6 hearings heat up: priceless!

  3. First, in a prior post you cast my comment as a “Defender of Facebook” – Not So.

    Your very post is a longer version of the type of posts on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and… that use provocative language in a way to generate “engagement”.

    It is NOT a problem specific to Facebook.

    Mobs and what they want are not a good things, as Jan 6 attests.

    Right now we are seeing a gathering popular mob (both left and right) calling for a take-down of Facebook.

    Your Boston Globe article is in the right direction for how to deal with this, and can be applied to more than just Facebook.

    But in this post you are back to the “Crush Facebook” theme (btw, is down) – seems more like a revenge mission.

    What I didn’t understand from your original “Crush” post (and still don’t with this) is your limiting principle.

    Without one, what is stopping the precedent from creating its own abuse?

    Will the standard be “zero tolerance” for “misinformation”?

    Imagine if Trump gets elected and Facebook has already been “Crushed”?

    Would New York Times, or NBC be next?

    The world wants and believes there are “simple” solutions to the problems we face.

    Worse, few consider the downside implications of what they are advocating.

    It is far easier to vent anger and call for “something” to be done – the more extreme the better.

    Seen enough of that motivating all the recent dubious “Safe and Secure Elections” legislation in states around the country.