Former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen came forward on Sunday as the whistleblower who filed at least eight complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission last month containing tens of thousands of pages of internal company research. According to Haugen, the documents prove the social media giant has lied about the effectiveness of its public efforts to remove misinformation, hate and violent content from its platform.
“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money,” Haugen told Scott Pelley on Sunday’s “60 Minutes.”
Haugen said that the company is incentivized to make its content more divisive. “Facebook makes more money when you consume more content. people enjoy engaging with things that elicit an emotional reaction,” she said. “And the more anger that they get exposed to, the more they interact and the more they consume.”
Haugen, an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and an MBA from Harvard, admitted she secretly copied tens of thousands of documents after joining the company’s Civic Integrity unit in 2019.
The company knows that its algorithms amplify polarizing and hateful content, Haugen said, accusing Facebook of knowingly contributing to unrest in societies around the world. Profit outweighs safety on Facebook, according to Haugen.
According to one internal document from Facebook’s own researchers that Haugen shared, the company was aware of poorly it was able to remove objectionable material from the site: “We estimate that we may action as little as 3-5 percent of hate and about 6 tenths of one percent of (violence and incitement on Facebook despite being the best in the world at it.”
Just after the 2020 election, Haugen said, Facebook turned off the safety systems that had been in place to reduce misinformation. “As soon as the election was over, they turned them back off or they changed the settings back to what they were before, to prioritize growth over safety,” she said. “And that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me.”
Haugen said that the company’s own research details the harmful effects of, among other things, Instagram on teenagers and young women. “What’s super-tragic is that Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this eating-disorder content they get more and more depressed, it actually makes them use the app more,” she said in an early clip from the interview. “And so they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more.”
Haugen added, “Facebook’s own research says, It is not just that Instagram is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers — it’s that it is distinctly worse than other forms of social media.”
Facebook, which last week announced that it would postpone the launch of an Instagram app for kids under 13, has disputed these characterizations.