Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and rabble-rousing after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in last year’s US elections in a money making move that a company whistleblower alleges contributed to the deadly Jan. 6 invasion and riots at the US Capitol.
The allegations were made by former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, during an exclusive interview to CBS on its show “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday. Haugen also charged that a 2018 change to the content flow in Facebook’s news feeds contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network that was originally designed to bring people closer.
Despite the animosity that the new algorithms were feeding, the social media giant found that they helped keep people coming back — a pattern that helped Facebook sell more of the digital ads that generate most of its advertising.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” said Haugen, who joined Facebook in 2019 after working at other Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Pinterest. “And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”
“No one at Facebook is malevolent,” Haugen said during the interview. “But the incentives are misaligned, right? Like, Facebook makes more money when you consume more content. People enjoy engaging with things that elicit an emotional reaction. And the more anger that they get exposed to, the more they interact and the more they consume”, she said in the interview.
Facebook has already been exposed over its lack of measures to curb polarization. The Wall Street Journal expose revealed that Facebook’s own internal research had concluded the social network’s attention-seeking algorithms had helped foster political dissent and contributed to mental health and emotional problems among teens. Haugen leaked thousands of pages of Facebook’s internal research to the Journal to provide the foundation for a succession of stories packaged as the “Facebook Files.”
Haugen, 37, has filed at least eight complaints with US securities regulators alleging Facebook has violated the law by withholding information about the risks posed by its social network, according to “60 Minutes.”
Rejecting the allegations, Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president of policy and public affairs wrote to Facebook employees in a memo sent on Friday, “Social media has had a big impact on society in recent years, and Facebook is often a place where much of this debate plays out. But what evidence there is simply does not support the idea that Facebook, or social media more generally, is the primary cause of polarization.”