Last week, the Wall Street Journal published internal research from Facebook showing that the social media company knows precisely how toxic its own product is for the people who use it. But tonight, we learned how the Journal obtained those documents: A whistleblower named Frances Haugen, who spoke with CBS News’ 60 Minutes about the ways Facebook is poisoning society.
The 37-year-old whistleblower liberated “tens of thousands” of pages of documents from Facebook and even plans to testify to Congress at some point this week. Haugen has filed at least eight complaints with the SEC alleging that Facebook has lied to shareholders about its own product.
Fundamentally, Haugen alleges there’s a key conflict between what’s good for Facebook and what’s good for society at large. At the end of the day, things that are good for Facebook tend to be bad for the world we live in, according to Haugen. We’ve pulled out some of the most interesting tidbits from Sunday’s interview that highlight this central point.
1) Facebook’s algorithm intentionally shows users things to make them angry
Haugen explained to 60 Minutes how Facebook’s algorithm chooses content that’s likely to make users angry because that causes the most engagement. And user engagement is what Facebook turns into ad dollars.
2) Facebook is worse than most other social media companies
Haugen previously worked at Pinterest and Google, and insists that Facebook really is worse than the rest of Big Tech in substantial ways.
3) Facebook dissolved its Civic Integrity unit after the 2020 election and before the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection
Haugen worked at the so-called Civic Integrity unit of Facebook, in charge of combating political misinformation on the platform. But the social media company seemed to think they were in the clear after the U.S. presidential election in November 2020 and that Civic Integrity could be shut down.
4) Political parties in Europe ran negative ads because it was the only way to reach people on Facebook
Summarizing the position of political parties in Europe, Haugen explained, “You are forcing us to take positions that we don’t like, that we know are bad for society. We know if we don’t take those positions, we won’t win in the marketplace of social media.”
5) Facebook only identifies a tiny fraction of hate and misinformation on the platform
Facebook’s internal research shows that it identifies roughly; 3-5% of hate on the platform and less than 1% of violence and incitement, according to one of the studies leaked by Haugen.
6) Instagram is making kids miserable
Facebook owns Intagram, and as 60 Minutes points out, the documents leaked by Haugen show that 13.5% of teen girls say Instagram makes thoughts of sucide worse, and 17% say it makes their eating disorders worse.
7) Employees at Facebook aren’t necessarily evil, they just have perverse incentives
Haugen says that the people who work at Facebook aren’t bad people, which seems like the kind of thing someone who previously worked at Facebook might say.
8) Haugen even has empathy for Zuck
9) Haugen believes she’s covered by whistleblower laws, but we’ll see
while Dodd-Frank hypothetically protects employees talking with the SEC, it doesn’t necessarily protect people talking with journalists and taking thousands of pages of documents. But we’re going to find out pretty quickly just how much protection whistleblowers actually get in the U.S. Historically, let’s just say the answer has been “not much.”