For the past month or so, a former Facebook employee providing information to the Wall Street Journal has disclosed several of the tech giant’s ethical lapses, including the revelation that the social network’s own research department found that the algorithm on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, was impacting the mental health of teenage girls. On 60 Minutes on Sunday, the whistleblower came forward, identifying herself as former product manager Frances Haugen, who was hired in 2019 to protect against election interference on the platform and left in May after growing frustrated by the company’s apparent refusal to deal with the crises it was stoking.
“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,” Haugen said. “And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”
Perhaps the most glaring example of this dynamic was her claim that Facebook disarmed protections against misinformation after finding that the move kept users (and advertising dollars) glued to the social network. Haugen alleges that this decision helped fuel the communications that led to the Capitol riot. Thousands of pages of documents provided to the Wall Street Journal also allegedly reveal how Facebook allows drug cartels and human traffickers to use their platforms with impunity and how the terms of service favor elites. In an internal memo distributed before the interview was aired, Facebook’s vice president of public policy and global affairs Nick Clegg wrote to employees that responsibility for the insurrection “rests squarely with the perpetrators of the violence,” adding that their company is not a “primary cause of polarization.”
In the wake of the reports, Facebook has suspended the rollout of an app called Instagram Kids for children under 13. The series has also caught the attention of lawmakers already prepared to take on the company: In a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing last week, chairman Richard Blumenthal called the revelations a “bombshell.” Haugen, who has applied for whistleblower protections with the Securities and Exchange Commission, will testify before the Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection on Tuesday.