TechnologyThe 'deep throat' that led Facebook to its worst existential crisis

The ‘deep throat’ that led Facebook to its worst existential crisis


Frances Haugen is 37 years old. Like Mark Zuckerberg. They both studied at Harvard. She came up with a degree in Computer Engineering to go on to graduate school. He, the fifth richest person on the planet, left the race to dedicate himself to the profitable task of taking over the world by connecting it in a way never seen before in history. It is unlikely that they coincided in their college years. Yes, it can be said that their paths ended up crossing in 2019, when Haugen signed for Facebook, the company valued at almost a billion dollars that Zuckerberg founded 17 years ago.

This week, those two distantly parallel lives collided with the world as a witness. Haugen had been pulling the blanket anonymously for a month in The Wall Street Journal, bringing to light information that has pushed the social network into one of its worst existential crises. The former employee took thousands of internal documents with her when she left the company in May, disillusioned by what those papers show: that Facebook works with algorithms that encourage discord that sometimes costs lives; that its tools are designed to create dependency and increase consumption; that they do little to control organized crime or that it is a lie that they treat their more than 3,000 million users equally. And, what has most ignited the spirits in the United States, that its managers knew that what they offer shows a not inconsiderable portion of adolescents (13%) to the vertigo of suicidal thoughts and anorexia. All this, according to Haugen, just for money.

On Sunday he revealed his identity on prime-time television, and on Tuesday he appeared before the Senate to demand that lawmakers put a stop to Silicon Valley in the name of protecting children and adolescents. Seated before the congressmen, with her eyes wide open, the deep Throat Facebook embodied with her exemplary citizen face the distinctly American archetype popularized by James Stewart in Frank Capra’s classic of political cinema Knight without sword: that of the individual who decides to face power for his ideals, that Mr. Smith who goes to Washington because he refuses to lose hope.

Having overcome the initial nerves, Haugen seemed to enjoy the lights, even the typical giggles of the diligent student escaped her, who is relieved to see that she knows the questions on the exam. Senators from both parties put their differences aside for a while and treated her with courtesy. She put up with the guy for more than three hours and even got some great blows, like when she suggested a worthy outlet for Facebook: “File for moral bankruptcy and admit your mistakes.” Or as when asked if Zuckerberg could be considered the ultimate responsible for those algorithms, he raised a sinuous argument that led to the tycoon’s guilt without directly accusing him.

That same night, after a month of scandals, the aforementioned broke his silence with a 1,200-word statement in which, if not to say, he did not even say the name Haugen. The scandal of these weeks has aborted many of the company’s new development plans, and not only the Instagram Kids tool, which was already parked at the end of last month.

How the daughter of a doctor and a teacher turned episcopal priestess has managed to put the technological Goliath in check also has much of a moral tale, which we reconstruct here from her confessions to the Journal Yet the CBS. Struggling in Silicon Valley, Haugen suffered a vascular accident after leaving Google in 2014 that confined her at home for a year. His great help was an acquaintance of the family who ended up becoming a great friend. The relationship was broken when an insane exposure to the darker parts of social media drove him down the ravine of conspiracy and white nationalism. There Haugen found his mission: to prevent the same thing from happening to other people.

Now recovered from her health problems, a Facebook job offer in 2019 seemed like a good way to achieve those goals. He enrolled in a department called Civic Integrity, dedicated to making the social network a healthy and clean place of falsehoods for political communication. It didn’t go too well. When the elections that made Joe Biden president passed, the team was dismantled, which the company had formed after suffering a serious reputational blow from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a company that obtained the data of millions of users for supposed academic purposes, which They were later used, among other things, in the 2016 campaign in favor of Donald Trump. Haugen contacted that same day by an encrypted communication system with a journalist from the Journal.

The assault on the Capitol on January 6, organized before the passivity of Facebook, was the icing on the cake. In March, she disenchantedly moved to Puerto Rico to telecommute. That is when he began to collect material from Workspace, a social network within the social network accessible to the 60,000 workers of the company. He was surprised by the amount of sensitive information available to any of them. When it was clear that she would not continue in her post, she left one last message on that forum: “I don’t hate Facebook, I love it and want to save it.” And so he contacted Whistleblowers Aid, a non-profit organization that helps those who have sensitive material to share in the name of democratic health. Those disclosures are protected by US law.

This week Haugen opened a blog that one can subscribe to (and receive nothing at the moment), which says: “Frances firmly believes that the problems facing social media today have a solution. We can get them to bring out the best in the human condition again ”. A Twitter account has also been created that this Saturday had more than 63,000 followers.

She only follows about 80 accounts. Among them, that of Nina Jankowicz, author specialized in “disinformation, democracy and misogyny on the web”, who on Friday celebrated in a telephone conversation that “the congressmen of both parties have finally seen the damage that digital platforms are inflicting on society and how little they care about our mental health, democracy or hoaxes about the covid ”. “I think this can be a before and after. And I see possible that some law comes out of there. It remains to be seen whether it focuses only on the protection of children or attacks the rest of the problems as well ”.

For now, Haugen seems up for anything. In his appearance on Tuesday, he invoked the example of consumer protection legislation, such as those that affect fossil fuels or the use of seat belts in cars. They marked an era and today they are unquestionable. The applied student has managed to stir up public opinion and make the United States wonder if Facebook has finally reached its “Big Tobacco Moment”, in reference to the historic 1998 agreement that prohibited large tobacco companies from advertising and forced them to pay billions of dollars to offset health costs related to smoking hazards. Dangers of which they did not sufficiently warn, as, Haugen claims, Facebook is doing with its users right now.

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