Haugen, who worked on its civic integrity team, told “60 Minutes” she felt compelled to come forward about Facebook’s internal research because the tech giant was “hiding information” about their harms from public view. It was her first public interview since the Wall Street Journal published a blockbuster series of reports based on her information.
“Facebook in its current form is dangerous. … It became necessary to get the public involved,” she told my colleague Cat Zakrzewski in a recent interview.
Here’s what we’ve learned about Haugen from our interview with her, her public debut on CBS, and interviews with lawmakers she’s huddled with in recent months.
She’s a data scientist and Silicon Valley veteran
Before joining Facebook in June 2019, Haugen worked as a product manager for other Silicon Valley heavyweights, including Google, Pinterest and Yelp, according to her LinkedIn profile. Her longest work stint was at Google, where she served in various roles from 2006 to 2014.
She also co-founded a prior iteration of Hinge called Secret Agent Cupid and took it to market. She lists data analysis, product design and organizational health as some of her specialties.
Haugen has a background in both data science and business, earning an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2011 and a BS in electrical and computer engineering in 2006.
“She's a very thoughtful and insightful person who has a wealth of experience,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), whose congressional panel will hear testimony from Haugen on Tuesday, told The Technology 202.
Haugen’s expertise will serve as an asset to lawmakers as they look to craft new regulations for Facebook and the tech sector, Blumenthal said.
She worked on Facebook’s civic integrity team — and was aghast at its disbandment
Haugen said she became more wary of Facebook’s commitment to protecting users after the company decided to disband its civil integrity team, which dealt with issues around global elections, after the 2020 presidential race.
“When they got rid of civic integrity, it was the moment where I was like, I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous,” she said on “60 Minutes.”
“The fact that she's got so much information about products makes me think that we're in for learning a lot more than what many university researchers have been able to cobble together about the reach of misinformation,” said Joan Donovan, research director at the Shorenstein Center.
Ahead of the CBS interview and amid reports that the then-unnamed whistleblower planned to allege Facebook contributed to the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Facebook head of global affairs Nick Clegg called claims the violence could be explained by social media “ludicrous.”
“The responsibility for the violence on January the 6th and the insurrection on that day lies squarely with the people who inflicted the violence and those who encouraged them,” Clegg said during a CNN interview earlier Sunday.
While the Senate hearing where Haugen is slated to testify will focus on how Facebook poses risks to children, Blumenthal said lawmakers will also ask about her election remarks.
“It will be a part of the hearing that they disbanded their civic integrity team,” he said. “In effect, they dismantled their safety systems, which meant more content that was hateful, divisive, polarizing.”
In response to Haugen’s remarks, Facebook’s director of policy communications Lena Pietsch said in a statement, “To say we turn a blind eye to feedback ignores [its] investments, including the 40,000 people working on safety and security at Facebook and our investment of $13 billion since 2016.”
She’s alleging Facebook misled not only the public, but its investors
Haugen is accusing Facebook of deceiving both the public and investors about its products. And according to CBS, she has filed eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission drawing contrasts between the company’s internal research and its public remarks.
In response, Facebook’s Pietsch said in a statement, “We stand by our public statements and are ready to answer any questions regulators may have about our work.”
Blumenthal said the SEC should take “very seriously” Haugen’s allegations that Facebook may have misled its investors and should be “very likely investigating formally.”
Facebook “certainly misled and deceived the public, and so their investors may well have been deceived as well,” Blumenthal added.
She hopes her disclosures spur regulations against Facebook in Washington
“I’m hoping that this will have had a big enough impact on the world that they get the fortitude and the motivation to actually go put those regulations into place,” Haugen told CBS.
But she told The Post that Facebook has made it harder for policymakers to craft regulations for the tech industry by failing to disclose information that could shape new rules.
“A lot of what Facebook is doing isn’t illegal because they hid the information that politicians would have needed to create regulations that addressed it,” she said in an interview. “But you can’t lie to your investors.”
Our top tabs
Trump asked a federal court to order Twitter to reinstate his account
Former president Donald Trump wants a judge to grant a preliminary injunction allowing him to return to the social media platform while his lawsuit against the company continues, Adela Suliman reports. Trump sued Twitter, Facebook and YouTube parent Google in July, arguing that they illegally silenced conservatives and violated Trump’s First Amendment rights. The claims have little merit, according to legal experts and business groups.
Trump’s court filing alleges that Twitter was “censoring” him, and that the company “exercises a degree of power and control over political discourse in this country that is immeasurable, historically unprecedented and profoundly dangerous to open democratic debate.”
Trump’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Twitter declined to comment.
Members of Congress know the ins-and-outs of tech policy despite sound bytes, Will Oremus writes
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) showed an understanding of key Facebook issues, including by accurately defining “finstas” before a blooper that went viral, Will Oremus writes. The truth, Will writes, is more nuanced than “old man yells at cloud” and more hopeful than “Congress is too clueless to regulate Big Tech.”
“Though mocking Congress makes good copy, today’s members are light-years ahead of where they were a decade ago in terms of understanding the Internet,” said Alan Davidson, a senior adviser at the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation who has worked for both Google and the Commerce Department.
In the hearing, Blumenthal showed such a “finsta” — a fake Instagram account — that his staff created to feed a 13-year-old user accounts related to eating disorders. He also pressed Facebook executive Antigone Davis on whether the company would pledge to not retaliate against a company whistleblower. But the blooper is a case study in how key parts of hearings can get drowned out by a single sound byte.
Twitter said it mistakenly restricted Taliban-affiliated accounts
The social media platform temporarily restricted accounts belonging to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and deputy spokesman Bilal Karimi in error and has reversed the move, Twitter spokeswoman Katie Rosborough said.
Social media companies have faced scrutiny over whether they plan to recognize the Taliban, which took control of Afghanistan in August. The companies are under pressure to keep Taliban officials off their platforms because of the group’s links to terrorism.
Rant and rave
Mac users say the latest version of the company's Safari web browser is a mess and needs to be fixed. Yes Plz Coffee's Tony (Tonx) Konecny:
EZPR's Ed Zitron:
Indie app developer Becky Hansmeyer:
Inside the industry
- Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies before a Senate panel on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing for Jonathan Kanter, President Biden’s pick to lead the Justice Department antitrust division, on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
- The Senate Commerce Committee holds a hearing on data security on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event on sixth-generation technology on Wednesday at 3 p.m.
- Silicon Flatirons hosts an event on encryption on Thursday at noon.