Former Facebook employee claims network harms children and fuels division | Politics

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WASHINGTON (AP) – A former Facebook data scientist told Congress on Tuesday that the social media giant’s products are harming children and fueling polarization in the United States as its executives refuse to change because they elevate profits at the expense of security. And she handed the responsibility to the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

Frances Haugen testified before the Senate Trade Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. Speaking confidently in an indicted hearing, she accused the company of being aware of the apparent harm done to some teens by Instagram and of being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.

“Facebook’s products harm children, fuel division and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said. “The company’s management knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they put their astronomical profits ahead of people.”

“Congress action is needed,” she said. “They will not solve this crisis without your help.”

Haugen said the company publicly acknowledged that integrity checks were essential for its systems that drive user engagement, but then turned off some of those checks.

In dialogue with receptive senators on both sides, Haugen, who has focused on algorithmic products in his work at Facebook, explained the importance to the company of algorithms that govern what appears in news feeds from users. She said a 2018 change in the flow of content contributed to more division and ill will in a network apparently created to bring people together.

Despite the enmity the new algorithms were fueling, she said Facebook found they were helping people come back – a model that has helped the social media giant sell more digital ads that generate most of its revenue. .

Senators accepted.

“It has benefited from the spread of disinformation and disinformation and the spread of hate,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Chairman of the panel. “Facebook’s responses to Facebook’s destructive impact always seem to be more Facebook, we need more Facebook, which means more pain and more money for Facebook. “

Haugen said she believes Facebook is not about creating a destructive platform. But “ultimately the responsibility ends with Mark,” she said, referring to Zuckerberg, who controls more than 50% of Facebook’s voting shares. “There is currently no one holding Mark accountable other than himself.”

Haugen said she believed Zuckerberg was aware of some of the internal research showing concerns about the potential negative impacts of Instagram.

The government must step in with tighter oversight of the company, Haugen said.

Like its fellow tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple, Facebook has benefited from minimal regulation. A number of bipartite legislative proposals for the tech industry deal with data privacy, protection of young people and anti-competitive behavior. But getting new laws passed by Congress is a big task. The Federal Trade Commission recently took a tougher stance on Facebook and other companies.

The subcommittee is examining Facebook’s use of information from its own researchers on Instagram that could indicate potential harm to some of its young users, especially girls, while publicly downplaying negative impacts. For some of the devoted teens to Facebook’s popular photo-sharing platform, the peer pressure generated by visually focused Instagram has resulted in mental health and body image issues, and in some cases, disturbances. diet and suicidal thoughts, research disclosed by Haugen has shown.

An internal study cited 13.5% of teenage girls as saying Instagram made suicidal thoughts worse and 17% of teenage girls saying it made eating disorders worse.

Due to user engagement, Haugen testified, “Facebook knows they drive young users to anorexia content. … It’s like cigarettes. Adolescents have no self-regulation. We must protect the children.

Haugen has passed a broad condemnation of Facebook, backed up by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents that she secretly copied before quitting her job in the company’s civic integrity unit. She has also filed complaints with federal authorities alleging that Facebook’s own research shows it amplifies hatred, disinformation and political unrest, but the company is hiding what it knows.

“The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, the US government, and governments around the world,” Haugen said. “The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about child safety, the effectiveness of its artificial intelligence systems, and its role in dissemination of conflicting and extreme messages.

The former employee challenging the social media giant with 2.8 billion users worldwide and nearly $ 1,000 billion in market value is a 37-year-old data expert from Iowa with a degree in computer engineering and holds a master’s degree in commerce from Harvard. Before being hired by Facebook in 2019, she worked for 15 years at technology companies such as Google, Pinterest, and Yelp.

After recent Wall Street Journal articles based on documents she leaked to the newspaper sparked public outcry, Haugen revealed her identity in a CBS “60 Minute” interview that aired Sunday night.

As the public relations debacle over Instagram search escalated over the past week, Facebook suspended work on a kids’ version of Instagram, which the company says is primarily aimed at tweens ages 10 to 10. 12 years.

Haugen said Facebook prematurely deactivated safeguards designed to thwart disinformation and incitement to violence after Joe Biden beat Donald Trump last year, alleging it contributed to the deadly Jan.6 assault on the US Capitol.

After the November election, Facebook disbanded the Civic Integrity Unit where Haugen worked. It was then, she says, that she realized “I don’t believe they’re willing to invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous. “

Haugen says she told Facebook executives when they recruited her that she wanted to work in an area of ​​the company that combats disinformation because she had lost a friend to online conspiracy theories.

Facebook maintains that Haugen’s claims are misleading and insists that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that it is the main cause of social polarization.

“Even with the most sophisticated technology, which I believe we are deploying, even with the tens of thousands of people we employ to try to maintain security and integrity on our platform, we are never going to be absolutely at the top of that 100% of the time, ”Facebook vice president of policy and public affairs Nick Clegg said Sunday of CNN’s“ trusted sources ”.

This is because of the “instant and spontaneous form of communication” on Facebook, Clegg said, adding, “I think we are doing more than any reasonable person can expect.”

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Follow Marcy Gordon on https://twitter.com/mgordonap.



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