This Tuesday students, staff and faculty gathered around the lobby of Wallis Annenberg Hall and peered over the railings in a massive crowd. They were all intent to hear Frances Haugen, better known as the Facebook Whistleblower, and what she had to say.
Frances Haugen joined USC Annenberg for a conversation on making tech work better. She was joined by Jim Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense, an age based media review company. The conversation covered the need for accountability and transparency in the digital age and the spread of misinformation.
Frances Haugen joined Facebook in 2019 in hopes of fighting against misinformation by joining the company’s civic integrity department. She left two years later and found representation to become a whistleblower. Last September, The Wall Street Journal published Facebook Files. This was an investigate series of reports on Facebook including exemptions for high profile users, impacts on youth, the algorithm, and the spread of misinformation.
Haugen also testified before the U.S. congress, claiming that quote the company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they put astronomical profits before people.
During her conversation, Haugen and Steyer, a American children’s advocate and lawyer, discussed the shortcomings of Facebook.
Haugen discussed the difficulty of deciding to be a whistleblower, citing her final moment being when Facebook decided to disband the civic integrity team after the 2020 election.
FRANCES HAUGEN: As soon as the 2020 election passed, they said oh good there wasn’t one on the streets, mission accomplished. We’ll move on now. But that meant that when January 6th came around, no one was empowered to say, hey, something is forming in that direction, because they had just disbanded the center mass of people who were supposed to be paying attention to these issues.”
Haugen made sure to emphasize that it does not come from malicious intent of Facebook employees, but rather quote conscientious people are operating under an ideology that disempowers action.
Haugen also stressed the importance of viewing Facebook as a business looking to make a profit and provide Internet for billions of people and how this affects their behaviors.
HAUGEN: Facebook started things like groups and pages . . . but it still wasn’t enough. We had to figure out a way to get more content into the system. They started saying how do we elicit a reaction from you? There was a problem though, which was the fastest path to a click was anger.”
The safety tradeoffs discussed did not end here. Haugen and Steyer talked about how the algorithms are built to create more extreme content which can implicate the most vulnerable consumers. Haugen says this has made many children and teenagers more susceptible to mental health issues, including self harm and eating disorders.
Haugen has been heavily commended for her bravery and willingness to stand up against a large tech company in support of individual wellbeing.