Facebook whistleblower tells UK lawmakers until 'incentives change,' the company won't

Asia's Tech News Daily

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, weeks after testifying before Congress, on Monday delivered to members of the British Parliament a similar message : The social network giant has cultivated a platform for hate and polarizing content with little incentive to change.

Haugen, a data engineer and scientist, appeared before U.K. lawmakers to discuss her explosive revelations about the inner workings at Facebook, including what she claims is a system that prioritizes profits over people.

When asked if she thought whether Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is watching, Haugen said she couldn’t imagine Zuckerberg “isn’t paying attention to what you’re doing.”

Haugen said that this was a very critical moment for the UK “to stand up and make sure that these platforms are in the public good, and are designed for safety.”

During her 2 1/2 hour appearance before a Parliament panel, Haugen urged British lawmakers to regulate Facebook due to its inability to thwart the spread of misinformation and polarizing content.

“Until incentives change, Facebook will not change,” Haugen said.

Her testimony follows documents reviewed by USA TODAY and other news organizations which detail how Facebook divided people despite pledges to unify its users. The documents were part of disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and sent to Congress by Haugen.

Haugen, earlier this month, testified before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection to warn how Facebook misleads the public on its platforms, including Instagram.

Facebook, created in 2004, is home to more than 3 billion users, while Instagram — wildly popular with a younger audience — has 1 billion users.

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people,” Haugen told members of Congress.

Facebook has said the leaked documents and recent media attention portray a faulty premise about the Menlo Park, California-based company.

During her Monday appearance, Haugen echoed similar concerns.

She said employees with Facebook have ideas about how to improve safety on the platform, but they aren’t amplified because they could slow Facebook’s growth.

Haugen said Facebook executives see the company as a “cost center,” not a “growth center,” which she strongly believes is “short-term” thinking.

“They don’t want to lose that growth,” said Haugen. “They don’t want 1% shorter sessions because that’s 1% less revenue.”

Facebook on Monday reported that it made $29 billion in revenue for the quarter ended Sept.30, a roughly 35% increase from a year ago. The company also posted profits of nearly $9.2 billion, a 17% jump from a year ago.

Haugen also questioned the use of Facebook’s independent Oversight Board, stating that the group faces “a defining moment.”

“I hope the Oversight Board takes this moment to stand up and demand a relationship that has more transparency,” Haugen said. “If Facebook can come in there and just actively mislead the Oversight Board, which is what they did, I don’t know what the purpose of the Oversight Board is.”

Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University professor who analyzes social media, said Haugen’s disclosures before American and British lawmakers have become vital to consumers.

“There’s no empirical research or study or report on how to fix Facebook. At this point what we need are whistleblowers to help confirm what researchers have seen, feel in our bones, and tried to explain all to have been brushed aside by the company,” Grygiel said.

While Facebook has dismissed Haugen’s testimony, Grygiel said her comments are “key because she’s been on the inside and privy to the internal, daily conversations, chit-chat, and message board musings…It shows why more people who work for the company need to speak out, because they are the ones who have the full picture.”

Haugen also disputed Facebook’s recent push toward the metaverse, a new way of communicating online that combines virtual and augmented reality.

Zuckerberg and other supporters have touted the metaverse as a potential replacement for the modern internet.

Last week, Facebook announced it would hire 10,000 engineers in Europe to help build the metaverse.

Haugen also said there’s “a lack of incentives to raise issues” about flaws in the Facebooksystem, and there are “lots of rewards for amplifying and making things grow.”

“Do you know what we could have done with safety if we had 10,000 more engineers? It would be amazing,” Haugen said.

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