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The Facebook Whistleblower: Effects of Social Media Condemned

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Jenny Donath examines Frances Haugen’s revelations about Facebook, Instagram and Zuckerberg’s Metaverse.

Photo by Nordwood Themes


Last year, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked thousands of documents to the Wall Street Journal regarding Meta’s (formerly Facebook) inadequate safety measures and deficient attempts to prevent hateful speech on their social media platforms.


Haugen’s testimony, along with unprecedented documentary evidence, points to Facebook’s internal structure and algorithms aggravating political division and misinformation on the platform, and indicates that Instagram does not adequately protect its users from being continually exposed to harmful content.



Concerns About User Safety


Haugen has years of experience in the tech industry, and began working at Meta (then Facebook) in 2019. After the company’s decision to close its civic integrity department after the US election in November 2020, Haugen felt she could no longer trust it. Before officially resigning in May 2021, she copied various important documents which she later publicised in this damning whistleblowing incident.


According to Haugen, Meta has repeatedly lied to the public regarding its progress in reducing hate speech and misinformation, and the network does not provide sufficient safety measures to protect its users. Her decision to come forward was influenced by her belief that every user should have a right to know this.


“During my time at Facebook, I realised a devastating truth: almost nobody outside of Facebook knows what happens inside of Facebook,” Haugen said. Meta has objected to her claims: “We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content — to suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.”


Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, claims Haugen’s accusations paint a “false picture” of the company’s efforts to protect its users, which include hiring 40,000 employees to regulate content.



Despite this, Haugen asserted that Meta would not police content in multiple languages because not enough employees specialised in those languages. She said non-English Facebook posts were often a “raw, dangerous version”. This may have contributed to Facebook’s damaging role in Myanmar’s military coup, as the platform was allegedly used to incite political panic without sufficient controls.


She states that Instagram poses another serious threat in the form of aggravating mental health and eating disorder struggles. For many users, the platform’s focus lies with lifestyle and physical image, and Haugen says not enough is done to protect people - especially younger women and girls - from the dangers of constant comparison.


One of the key features of Instagram’s algorithm is that it shows you want it thinks you want to see, so if someone searches for eating disorder or suicide-related content, the algorithm will provide them with more of the same, resulting in potentially disastrous effects for users’ mental wellbeing.


In her speech in front of the UK Parliament’s Online Safety Bill committee in October 2021, she said: “I am deeply worried that it may not be possible to make Instagram safe for a 14-year-old girl, and I sincerely doubt that it is possible to make it safe for a 10-year-old.”


“I came forward because I believe that every human being deserves the dignity of the truth — and the truth is that Facebook buys its astronomical profits by sacrificing our safety.” – Frances Haugen


Change is Needed


Despite refuting several of Haugen’s accusations, Zuckerberg agrees that updates on internet regulations need improvement from the government’s side. In the UK, the proposed Online Safety Bill would introduce tighter restrictions on social media platforms through criminalising promoting violence against women, glamourising self-harm and cyber-flashing – the act of sending unwanted naked images.


The Bill, if passed through Parliament and made into law, could also address online scams, harmful algorithms and general repeated failings by tech giants. It is yet to be seen whether the Bill will be passed, or indeed whether its measures could help begin to remedy this huge problem.


Haugen’s revelations show that much change is necessary within Meta itself, and the same might be the case for other social media giants. If these networks which are so ubiquitous in our lives do not serve us well and benefit us, then what are they there for?


 

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