What did Frances Haugen do?


Madera Longstreet-Lipson, On Campus Editor

In late October of 2021, Frances Haugen, a former product manager for Facebook, now Meta, submitted an affidavit alleging the company ignored issues such as misinformation and hate speech in order to prioritize profit and growth.

Ms. Haugen had testified before Congress earlier in the month. In her testimony, she shared information from company documents, highlighting those considering the effect of social media on children and teens, to support her arguments.

One issue, Ms. Haugen said, was the lack of thorough investigation when faced with potential content issues on the app. Understaffing at the company had led to over half of the problematic cases raised being overlooked. This “implicit discouragement” from caution could be prevented with the use of a technology that could detect the questionable content.

Additionally, she showed the company has not addressed concerns around mental health impacts of Facebook and Instagram on young users.

Company research showed that Instagram is harmful for a considerable amount of teens, specifically girls, but the company has not published this information to academics or lawmakers. For example, 32% of girls said that when they felt negative about their bodies, Instagram exacerbated that feeling, one study showed.

Instead of limiting adolescent use, Facebook and Meta-owned companies have encouraged it as a way to lure in more users. Tweens were described as a “valuable but untapped audience” in a 2020 document, though Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said Meta is simply attempting to understand and appeal to younger generations.

Ms. Haugen also raised concerns about engagement- based ranking, which promotes posts that are more likely to cause a user reaction, such as posts depicting anorexia content or encouragement of ethnic violence. A new whistleblower, who has decided to stay anonymous, filed claims backing those of Haugen and brought up more examples of Facebook prioritizing profits over safety and well-being.

Ms. Haugen stressed her main goal is not to make the public hate Meta but to help the company fix its problems. She brought the complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is in charge of overseeing publicly traded companies. It was rumored in late October that the SEC was planning to open an investigation into Facebook.

The SEC has not confirmed or denied the rumor. In the case of an investigation, top Facebook officials would be deposed, which would force the company to release business documents and private communications.

Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal.