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4 Oct, 2021 03:52

‘Betrayal of democracy’? Whistleblower blasts Facebook for prioritizing profits over fighting ‘hate speech & misinformation’

‘Betrayal of democracy’? Whistleblower blasts Facebook for prioritizing profits over fighting ‘hate speech & misinformation’

A former Facebook data scientist, responsible for censoring “dangerous” and “misleading” information during the 2020 US election, has all but accused the social media giant of facilitating the January 6 “insurrection.”

In the 60 Minutes interview with CBS on Sunday, Frances Haugen, 37, came forward as the whistleblower behind a recent WSJ investigation and a Senate hearing. But while her Tuesday subcommittee appearance, titled ‘Protecting Kids Online,’ will be focused on Instagram's effect on the mental health of teens, in her interview Haugen touched upon another aspect of why she believes unregulated Facebook poses a danger to “democracy.”

Haugen was recruited into Facebook’s Civic Integrity unit back in 2019, and gladly joined because she personally “lost a friend to online conspiracy theories.” She had helped battle misinformation during the US presidential elections, but the moment Facebook rolled back its safeguards became a turning point when she told herself: “I don't trust that they're willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.”

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. And that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me.

Hagen said there was a constant conflict of interests “between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” accusing the company of always prioritizing profits.

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“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,” she said.

Like, they basically said, ‘Oh good, we made it through the election. There wasn't riots. We can get rid of Civic Integrity now.’ Fast forward a couple months, we got the insurrection. 

In a written response to CBS about Hagen’s accusations, Facebook claimed that it had taken every possible step to address harmful content, including banning hundreds of “militarized social movements” and “tens of thousands of QAnon pages, groups and accounts.”

READ MORE: ‘Are your friends becoming extremists?’ Facebook asks users as it tests bizarre new feature to combat ‘harmful content’

The company said it also “aggressively worked with law enforcement, both before January 6 and in the days and weeks since, with the goal of ensuring that evidence linking the people responsible for January 6 to their crimes is available for prosecutors.”

Ultimately, the responsibility resides with those who broke the law, and the leaders who incited them. Facebook has taken extraordinary steps to address harmful content and we'll continue to do our part.

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Ever since the January 6 riot, social media platforms, including Facebook, have faced increased scrutiny from the Democrats for their alleged failure to prevent the protesters from organizing and storming the Capitol. On the other hand, Republicans have for years been accusing the openly liberal US tech giants of shadow-banning conservative views. Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic there was also a constant dispute over whether Facebook was overzealous – or too lenient – in censoring the information that questions the mainstream narrative.

However, in her call on lawmakers to finally put a leash on Facebook, Haugen chose to focus on the issue both camps could agree on – the said dangers social media pose to young minds.

Facebook has demonstrated they cannot act independently... It is subsidizing, it is paying for its profits with our safety. I'm hoping that this will have had a big enough impact on the world that they [the US federal government] get the fortitude and the motivation to actually go put those regulations into place.

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