At the beginning of September 2021, the Wallstreet Journal (WSJ) published “The Facebook Files: A Wall Street Journal Investigation”. The reports were based on a detailed study of internal Facebook documents which included research reports, online employee discussions, and drafts of presentations to senior management. The work done by the Journal uncovered some explosive truths about the multibillion-dollar company and its subsidiaries.
In the words of the Journal’s initial report “Time and again, the documents show, Facebook’s researchers have identified the platform’s ill effects. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its pledges, and numerous media exposés, the company didn’t fix them. The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the chief executive himself.” The reports go on to describe the various findings from these reports which include the XCheck program, the influence of Instagram on teens, and how Facebook’s algorithms are rooted in divisiveness.
The source of the documents that WSJ had used as the basis for the aforementioned reports was a mystery until recently. Frances Haugen had revealed herself as the whistle-blower who released internal documents during her time at Facebook on CBS’s 60 Minutes show. Haugen had been working in the tech industry for more than a decade at companies such as Pinterest and Google before being recruited by Facebook in 2018. She was a product manager at Facebook’s civic integrity department until May 2021. It was at this point that she decided to be a whistle-blower to shed light on the company’s profit mongering over public safety.
After the publications of WSJ’s reports, she had also anonymously filed eight complaints, alongside the documents, with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on a variety of issues including handling of political misinformation, hate speech, teenage mental health, human trafficking, and more pressing matters. As a result of the WSJ’s investigative results, the United States Senate Commerce Committee‘s Sub-Committee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security scheduled two hearings, beginning with Antigone Davis, the global head of safety for Facebook, on September 30th, 2021, and the then-anonymous whistle-blower on October 5th, 2021.
Haugen had highlighted key takeaways from the leaked documents on Facebook’s practices on the 60 Minute’s show as well as on the October 5th hearing. She stated that “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. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help”. In her four-hour testimony, major revelations were asserted which included the role Facebook played in the Jan 6 riots, lack of transparency, ignorance of Instagram’s influence on teenage mental health, and much more. She had stressed the role of Congress in taking steps to place recurred protocols to safeguard public safety and an open media. There was a positive response from the senators of both Republican and Democratic parties, seeking interest in a new overwatch and research into the matter of social media algorithms and public safety. Lawmakers from the panel were also united in calling Zuckerberg and other Facebook officials to testify before congress as Haugen had.
Facebook’s PR team had initially responded to the allegations by undermining the credibility of Ms. Haugen and tried to reassure that its motives are always for the betterment of society. Zuckerberg had also commented on the testimony stating that Ms. Haugen’s statements are “just not true” and “don’t make any sense”. He argued that Facebook pushing content that makes people angry was illogical.
In a recent release by Facebook’s VP of global affairs Nick Clegg, “Instagram will introduce new measures to nudge teenagers away from harmful content and encourage them to ‘take a break,’ from the platform”. In addition, Clegg had said that Facebook’s algorithms “should be held to account, if necessary, by regulation so that people can match what our systems say they’re supposed to do from what actually happens”.
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A third culture kid, Deborah's keen on learning and meeting people from different cultures. Having lived in the Middle East for almost 23 years and with a background in English Language and Literature and Israel Studies, she focuses on international relations, communications, and diplomacy. When she is not writing or researching she spends time traveling with family and friends, loves collecting coins and stamps and works on creative art projects.