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New Delhi: A Facebook Inc whistleblower on Sunday accused the social media giant of repeatedly prioritising profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation, and said her lawyers have filed at least eight complaints with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Frances Haugen, who worked as a product manager on the civic misinformation team at Facebook, appeared on Sunday on the CBS television program “60 Minutes,” revealing her identity as the whistleblower who provided the documents that underpinned a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teen girls.
According to The Guardian, Frances Haugen joined the company in 2019. “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.”
She clearly stated in the interview, “No one at Facebook is malevolent,” Mark Zuckerberg “has never set out to make a hateful platform”; however, the effects of the company’s choices have been grave.
According to her, “The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.” She further said that the company has been lying regarding the progress it has made against violence, hate and misinformation.
In an interview conducted by the CNN on Sunday, a Facebook Inc. executive proclaimed that the company does not believe that its social media service is a primary contributor to the political polarisation that has become widespread in the United States.
The company’s vice-president of policy and global affairs, Nick Clegg, spoke ahead of an expected Sunday evening segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes” featuring Haugen who alleges that the company moved too quickly to lift some election-related restrictions it had put in place around the November 2020 contest.
Clegg acknowledged that the company’s platform can serve as a conduit for hate speech and disinformation.
“The way people exchange information … now takes place online,” he said in the interview. “So of course, we as one of the largest social media platforms have a responsibility to understand where we contribute to negative and extreme content or hate speech or misinformation and so on.”
Frances Haugen is expected to testify to a Tuesday Senate hearing about what one of the senators announcing the meeting called the social media company’s toxic effects on young users.
Clegg rejected the remarks as “ludicrous” that social media should shoulder the blame for the deadly January 6 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump, fuelled by his false claims that his election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.
“The insurrection on that day lies squarely with the people who inflicted the violence and those who encouraged them, including President Trump,” Clegg said. “I think it gives people false confidence to assume that there must be a technological or a technical explanation for the issues of political polarisation in the United States … It’s too easy to say it’s Facebook’s fault.”
Haugen claims that around the 2020 US elections, the company did make efforts by addressing certain problems and changing their content policies. However, she alleges that soon after, they went back to their old ways and deprioritised political content on it’s Newsfeed which ultimately contributed to the January 6 assault on the US Capitol.
She said, “Facebook has realised that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, and [Facebook] will make less money.”
“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they'll click on less ads, they'll make less money,” says Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. https://t.co/wbxxfgorNE pic.twitter.com/zpQIwcdatr
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 3, 2021
Last week US senators grilled Facebook about its plans to better protect young users on its apps, drawing on leaked internal research that showed the social media giant was aware of how its Instagram app harmed the mental health of teens.
However, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone stated, “to suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.”
(With inputs from Reuters)