Technology

Frances Haugen, the engineer determined to make Facebook less harmful

She defines herself as an “activist for the public surveillance of social networks”. (Photo: 123RF)

Frances Haugen, who gave damning testimony against Facebook in the United States Congress on Tuesday, is convinced of her new mission: to make people understand that the social network can be as dangerous as it is beneficial and that, therefore, it should be restricted.

The 37-year-old, a former member of a civic integrity team within Mark Zuckerberg’s group, collected thousands of internal documents before leaving the company in May.

Confident in particular to the Wall Street Journal, they alarmed US elected officials enough to quickly organize a hearing on protecting children online.

Frances Haugen had already revealed her face to the general public on Sunday, on the “60 minutes” program.

On Tuesday, dressed in a black suit, blonde hair on her shoulders, she gave a clear, serene and incisive testimony in front of the parliamentarians.

Frances Haugen says she saw a close friend get lost in the twists and turns of conspiracy theories.

“It’s one thing to study disinformation and another to lose someone,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Hired at Facebook in 2019 in hopes of helping the company correct certain flaws, Frances Haugen was increasingly concerned about the decisions made by the group.

Witness

To make money from ads, he explains, the social network must make sure its members stay on the platform for as long as possible. And to do this, hateful and divisive content is often the one most likely to get attention.

Facebook has well-established teams to limit misinformation at election time and modified its algorithms to reduce the spread of false information.

But his team, which was interested in the risks that certain users or certain content could pose as the elections approached, disbanded shortly after the US presidential election in November 2020.

Just two months later, on January 6, the United States Congress was invaded by rioters.

Frances Haugen then really began to question the group’s willingness to put enough resources on the table to protect its members. Facebook, he concludes, prefers to focus on its benefits.

In March, he moved to Puerto Rico hoping to continue working remotely. Human resources tell you that is not possible. Then he agrees to resign, he explained to the Wall Street Journal.

But we have to witness what happens within the group, he firmly believes: The company’s own research shows that spending time on Instagram can affect teenagers’ mental health.

She collects documents on Facebook until the last moment, expecting to be caught with her hand in her purse at any moment, and in parallel she contacts an NGO specialized in helping whistleblowers.

“I want to save” Facebook

In her newly created Twitter account, she defines herself as an “activist for the public surveillance of social networks”.

His first words: “Together we can create social networks that bring out the best in us.”

Born in Iowa, Frances Haugen tells on her website that she participated as a child, with her two parents, teachers, in the presidential primaries, which “instilled in her a strong sense of pride in democracy and the importance of civic participation.” .

She has attended the Burning Man Festival, held annually in the Nevada desert before the pandemic, several times as a volunteer with the role of explaining the rules to attendees and helping them resolve conflicts.

An engineer by training, she defines herself as a specialist in algorithms, a skill she has exercised with several tech giants. She worked at Google, the Hinge dating app, the business recommendation site Yelp, the Pinterest network, and ultimately Facebook.

On May 17, shortly before 7 p.m., he was disconnected for the last time from the company’s internal network, he told the Wall Street Journal.

As if to justify himself, he leaves one last written trace: “I don’t hate Facebook”, then types on his keyboard. “I like Facebook, I want to save” the group.

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