Former director of civic integrity at Facebook, Frances Haugen, 37, testified on Tuesday (5) to US senators after a series of complaints about the way the company (owner of Instagram and WhatsApp) conducts its activities and design your algorithm for kids and teenagers.
His testimony on Capitol Hill comes a day after the global blackout that left billions of people without access to Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp systems. According to her, the company is dangerous for democracy and knows that its system can affect the health of young people.
“I know that, for over five hours, Facebook has not been used to deepen divisions, destabilize democracies and make girls and women feel bad about their bodies,” Haugen said in his opening speech in a reference to yesterday’s global failure .
The former employee’s identity became known a few days ago. This Sunday, she gave a face to a series of accusations leaked to the press and to the United States justice during an interview with the program 60 Minutes, of the North American TV network CBS. One of his accusations is that making Facebook more secure means, for the company, making less profit.
Concerns on the part of US lawmakers involve the fact that Facebook platforms have become the main avenue for disinformation on the global internet, as well as the lack of transparency in its business model and security risks to its users’ information. .
Check out below some highlights of what the former director of Facebook said in her testimony.
1. Facebook is dangerous for democracy
As she had already said in the CBS interview, Frances Haugen once again said that the way Facebook conducts its activities today represents a danger to its users and to US democracy.
The main reason, according to her, would be a mechanism called “engagement ranking”, whereby all content posted is filtered before being distributed on the platform. She says the social network’s algorithm — and also Instagram’s — puts more prominence on posts that promote lies, division between people and distorted images of bodies.
Asked by senators about why the company does not change these policies considered harmful, Haugen replied that Facebook does not change its algorithm because it aims to grow in the social networking market, without worrying about moral rules. That is, the financial value weighs more.
“Facebook’s engagement ranking system is literally spreading ethnic violence in places like Ethiopia,” said the former employee.
Frances also said that Facebook had disabled a protection mechanism that had been used during the US election. “They wanted the growth back, so they went back to the original standards.”
2. Zuckerberg knows and is in control of everything
Asked about the responsibility of Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, for the decisions ahead of the company, Haugen said that the billionaire knows his platform well and decided not to act on these anomalies.
For her, the decision to do nothing is ultimately up to Zuckerberg. “Facebook’s share structure gives it the ultimate voting power over the company and its direction,” he told senators.
3. Dangerous information for young people
In her testimony, the former director of civic integrity highlighted the negative impact of the platform’s algorithms on children, especially those under 14 years of age.
According to Haugen, the company is aware of at least 600,000 young people and children below this age group registered on Facebook networks — although, officially, the company says it prohibits the entry of children — and maintains investments in market research focused on this audience.
The former employee highlighted that the company understands that the engagement ranking directs girls and boys aged 14 to content related to anorexia, for example. The addiction to Instagram on the part of children and teenagers is also known to the company, according to her.
Frances told the senators that Facebook works consciously to attract new young users and teenagers, as she knows that the company’s growth and sustainability depends on attracting this profile of people.
When questioned, the informant did not hesitate to answer which is the most negative Facebook social network for teenagers: Instagram. “In it, it’s all about comparing bodies and lifestyles.”
As Frances answered questions in the Senate, Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, tweeted. In one of the publications, he said the former employee “didn’t work child safety with Instagram or participate in research on these issues.”
She also said that she “has no direct knowledge of the subject because of her work on Facebook”.
4. Bullying online
Frances tried to explain to delegates present that the environment in which children are victims of bullying today is quite different from 20 or 30 years ago because of social media.
“For kids who are on Instagram, bullying doesn’t stop when they come home from school. It follows them into their rooms. The last thing they look at before bed is someone being mean to them. that they read in the morning. Think about how this will impact their lives in the future,” he said.
5. Espionage that fails
According to Frances, the company works directly in tracking counter-espionage in countries like China and Iran, but considers that there is a lack of investment in personnel. She herself claims to have had experience in this sector within the company.
“The lack of personnel in these operations is a national security issue. I’m very concerned about how Facebook handles this issue today.”
What can be done to change
The insider made a series of recommendations to senators on how Facebook could improve. For example, for the company to be more transparent about how its algorithms work, working in partnership with the US Congress and being referred to a regulatory agency.
It also suggested that more research be carried out at universities to measure the harmful effects of certain implementations, as well as increasing interference activities with visibly harmful content, as is already done on the platform. However, she said she was against breaking her monopoly.
“I’m afraid because Facebook is the internet for a good part of the world. If you separate Facebook and Instagram, it’s likely that most of the money invested in advertising will go to Instagram. is putting lives in danger around the world,” he added.
*With information from the Insider website