TechnologyFacebook's 'deep throat' faces: "They finance their profits with our security"

Facebook’s ‘deep throat’ faces: “They finance their profits with our security”


Frances Haugen, in her interview in ’60 minutes’.Robert Fortunato (AP)

Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old computer engineer from Iowa, was the person who leaked the internal Facebook documents that support the latest exclusives published by The Wall Street Journal. Among them, the information that the company was aware that Instagram, its photo social network, was toxic for many teenagers. The former employee of the company revealed her identity early this Monday in a television program with the highest audience and this Tuesday she will testify about the network in the US Congress.

“There were constant conflicts of interest between what is good for the public and what is good for Facebook,” Haugen said in 60 minutes, from the CBS network. “Facebook always chose to optimize for its own interest, earn more money,” said the former employee. Haugen managed to get a large number of investigative documents and messages from internal chats where it is shown that Facebook hides a good part of the evils caused by the company. “I had to take enough [material] so that no one could question that this is real, “he said on the show.

Haugen, who left Facebook in May, has asked through his attorney for federal whistleblower protection through the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Jeff Horwitz, the journalist from the Journal The author of the exclusives, he called Haugen “Sean” during the 10 months he had a relationship with her before publishing to protect his identity.

“I have seen several networks on the inside and Facebook is substantially worse,” said Haugen, who has worked at Google and Pinterest, before going to Facebook in 2019. Haugen was within the Civic Integrity department, in charge of making the network “out a force for the good of society ”. Weeks after the November 2020 election, won by Joe Biden, the platform decided to suppress that team. “There have been no riots, we can dissolve you,” said the former employee who was told. That was the moment when he became convinced that the company would never improve its platform by itself and decided to go to the press and federal authorities. “Facebook is full of good and conscientious people. But inside you know things that no one outside knows. Imagine how it corrodes you, ”explains Haugen. “Facebook is struggling with itself, they are hiding information. We cannot solve problems alone, but together ”, he admitted, referring to the rest of society.

Haugen is the face, until now hidden, behind the biggest crisis of the social network since Cambridge Analytica. Some say that this crisis is deeper because they are internal documents of the network on which the company has decided not to act, where it is seen that how Instagram is bad for groups of adolescent girls or that the algorithm rewards hatred because it is more attractive and it achieves more interactions from users, which means they spend more time on the platform. “They have found that if they change the algorithm to be more secure, people will spend less time on the platform, click on fewer ads, make less money,” said Haugen.

“I don’t think they are going to invest enough to prevent Facebook from being dangerous,” Haugen said. “They have realized that if they change the algorithm to be more secure, people will spend less time on the platform, click on fewer ads and earn less money.”

“Facebook chooses benefits over security. Finance your benefits with our security ”, he insists. During the long interview, Haugen repeats that within the company there are many people who admit and acknowledge these problems, but their incentives are misaligned: what makes money is bad for society. “I have a lot of empathy for Mark [Zuckerberg]. It never started to end up creating a hate platform, but it has allowed decisions to be made whose secondary consequences are that hateful content reaches more people, ”he says.

In a profile of Haugen in the Journal which came out at the same time as her interview on CBS, the engineer specifies what her central objective of her revelations is. “If people just hate Facebook more because of what I have done, then I will have failed. I believe in truth and reconciliation, we have to admit reality. The first step for this is the documentation ”.

In one of the documents extracted from Haugen, it was analyzed how European political parties had raised their tone of aggressiveness in advertisements so that the algorithm would take them into account. According to Haugen, this is the message they were receiving from Europe: “You are making us take positions that we do not like, that we know are bad for society, but if we do not, we know that we will not win in the social media market” . Hatred and polarization would be the currencies of that market, where without them, no one is able to be seen. And the political parties need to be seen by force.

One of the big concerns for Haugen, like other former employees who have recently left the company, is the havoc Facebook wreaks in non-Western countries. “What Facebook does in other countries is horrible,” he said. “Most of the world’s languages ​​do not have a free and open internet and Facebook has gone to pay and subsidize with data plans in some countries with a very fragile structure to use the platform. We had a joke within the company: if you want to know which countries will be in crisis in a couple of years, look at where we have expanded, ”Haugen said.

“The black humor behind the joke is that information technologies are not neutral,” he clarified. Haugen explained then that Facebook has its incentives misaligned with the interests of the societies where it arrives. “Every time Facebook expands into a new linguistic area, it costs the same or more to create the security systems that English or French already have. Each language costs more money but there are fewer customers. The accounts don’t add up. So if there are 5,000 languages ​​in the world, Facebook has its systems adapted to maybe 50. In all the places where it doesn’t, misinformation leads directly to people dying ”.

The problems that Facebook and other social networks can cause have touched Haugen’s life closely. During a year that he was convalescing, a friend helped him with daily tasks. Over time, that friend fell into internet forums that were changing their positions towards a mixture of occultism and white supremacism, according to the Journal. “It is one thing to study disinformation and it is something else to lose someone to it. Many people who work on these products only see the positive side of it all, ”Haugen lamented during the interview.

Facebook has responded to their statements with this statement: “Every day our teams must make a balance between protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to maintain the platform as a safe and positive space. We continue to make significant improvements to curb the distribution of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest that we promote bad content without doing anything is not true. “

For Haugen the difference is in the sense we give to each of those words. It’s true that Facebook does “something,” but it’s probably not enough: “The company is lying when it says it has made significant progress on disinformation or hate,” he said. One of Haugen’s documents shows how the harmful content that Facebook suppresses is ridiculous in proportion to the total.

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