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Facebook chooses profits over safety, says ex-worker

Haugen said she had grown alarmed by what she saw at Facebook
In an interview with 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, Haugen, 37, said she had grown alarmed by what she saw at Facebook.
In an interview with 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, Haugen, 37, said she had grown alarmed by what she saw at Facebook.
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Ryan Mac, Cecilia Kang   |   New York   |   Published 05.10.21, 04:22 AM

John Tye, the founder of Whistleblower Aid, a legal non-profit that represents people seeking to expose potential lawbreaking, was contacted this spring through a mutual connection by a woman who claimed to have worked at Facebook.

The woman told Tye and his team something intriguing: She had access to tens of thousands of pages of internal documents from the world’s largest social network. In a series of calls, she asked for legal protection and a path to releasing the confidential information.

Tye, who said he understood the gravity of what the woman brought “within a few minutes”, agreed to represent her and call her by the alias “Sean”.

She “is a very courageous person and is taking a personal risk to hold a trillion-dollar company accountable”, he said.

On Sunday, Frances Haugen revealed herself to be “Sean,,” the whistle-blower against Facebook. A product manager who worked for nearly two years on the civic misinformation team at the social network before leaving in May, Haugen has used the documents she amassed to expose how much Facebook knew about the harms that it was causing and provided the evidence to lawmakers, regulators and the news media.

In an interview with 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, Haugen, 37, said she had grown alarmed by what she saw at Facebook. The company repeatedly put its own interests first rather than the public’s interest, she said. So she copied pages of Facebook’s internal research and decided to do something about it.

“I’ve seen a bunch of social networks and it was substantially worse at Facebook than what I had seen before.,” Haugen said. She added, “Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety.”

Haugen gave many of the documents to The Wall Street Journal, which last month began publishing the findings. The revelations — including that Facebook knew Instagram was worsening body image issues among teenagers and that it had a two-tier justice system — have spurred criticism from lawmakers, regulators and the public.

Haugen has also filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission, accusing Facebook of misleading investors with public statements that did not match its internal actions. And she has talked with lawmakers such as Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut, and Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican of Tennessee, and shared subsets of the documents with them.

The spotlight on Haugen is set to grow brighter. On Tuesday, she is scheduled to testify in Congress about Facebook’s impact on young users.

Haugen’s actions were a sign of how Facebook has turned increasingly leaky. As the company has grown into a behemoth with over 63,000 employees, some of them have become dissatisfied as it has lurched from controversy to controversy over data privacy, misinformation and hate speech.

In 2018, Christopher Wylie, a disgruntled former employee of the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, set the stage for those leaks.

Wylie spoke with The New York Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian to reveal that Cambridge Analytica had improperly harvested Facebook data to build voter profiles without users’ consent.

In the aftermath, more of Facebook’s own employees started speaking up. Later that same year, Facebook workers provided executive memos and planning documents to news outlets including The Times and BuzzFeed News. In mid-2020, employees who disagreed with Facebook’s decision to leave up a controversial post from President Trump staged a virtual walkout and sent more internal information to news outlets.

New York Times News Service



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