Ex-Facebook manager alleges social network fueled the Capitol riot

Matt Rourke / AP

In this file photo from May 16, 2012, the Facebook logo is displayed on an iPad in Philadelphia.

Facebook prematurely deactivated safeguards designed to thwart disinformation and public agitation after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in last year’s election in a lucrative operation which a whistleblower said. company, contributed to the deadly invasion of the United States Capitol on January 6.

The whistleblower, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, also claimed in an exclusive interview broadcast Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that a 2018 change in the flow of content in Facebook’s news feeds has contributed to more division and ill will in a seemingly created network. to bring people together.

Despite the enmity the new algorithms were fueling, Facebook found they were helping people come back – a model that has helped the Menlo Park, Calif., Company sell more of the digital ads that generate most of its advertising. .

“What I saw time and time again on Facebook was that there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” said Haugen, who joined Facebook in 2019 after working at other Silicon Valley companies such as Google. and Pinterest. “And Facebook, time and time again, has chosen to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”

Facebook’s annual revenue has more than doubled from $ 56 billion in 2018 to $ 119 billion this year, according to estimates from analysts polled by FactSet. Meanwhile, the company’s market value has grown from $ 375 billion at the end of 2018 to nearly $ 1,000 billion today.

Even before the full interview was published, a senior Facebook official called the whistleblower’s claims “misleading.”

“Social media has had a big impact on society in recent years, and Facebook is often a place where much of this debate takes place,” wrote Nick Clegg, vice president of policy and public affairs at the company to Facebook employees in a note sent on Friday. . “But the available evidence just doesn’t support the idea that Facebook, or social media in general, is the primary cause of polarization.”

The “60-minute” interview intensifies the spotlight already on Facebook as lawmakers and regulators around the world scrutinize the immense power of social media to shape opinions and their polarizing effects on society.

The backlash has intensified since the Wall Street Journal published in mid-September an article revealing that Facebook’s own internal research concluded that the social network’s attention-seeking algorithms had helped foster dissent. policy and contributed to mental health and emotional issues in adolescents, especially girls. . After copying thousands of internal Facebook search pages, Haugen disclosed them to the Journal to provide the basis for a succession of stories presented under the name “Facebook files.”

Although Facebook claimed the Journal selected the most damaging information from internal documents to present the company in the worst possible light, the revelations caused an indefinite delay in rolling out a children’s version of its popular app. for sharing photos and videos. , Instagram. Facebook currently requires people to be at least 13 years old to open an Instagram account.

Clegg was already trying to contain the fallout from a 1,500-word memo warning Facebook employees that the whistleblower’s interview could subject them to tougher questions from family and friends about the network’s corrosive side effects social.

Then, Sunday morning, Clegg appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” show in another preemptive attempt to mitigate the blow from the bomb dropped on “60 Minutes.”

“Even with the most sophisticated technology, which I think we are deploying, even with the tens of thousands of people we employ to try to maintain security and integrity on our platform,” Clegg told CNN, “We will never absolutely be on top of that 100% of the time.” He said it was because of the “instant and spontaneous form of communication” on Facebook, adding, “I think we are doing more than that at what any reasonable person can expect. ”

Haugen, 37, has filed at least eight complaints with US securities regulators alleging that Facebook violated the law by withholding information about the risks posed by its social network, according to “60 Minutes”. Facebook could in turn take legal action against it if it claims that it stole confidential information from the company.

“No one on Facebook is malicious,” Haugen said in the interview. “But the incentives are misaligned, aren’t they? Like, Facebook makes more money when you consume more content. People like to engage with things that elicit an emotional response. And more anger to which they are exposed, the more they interact and the more they consume. “

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