A data scientist named Frances Haugen has revealed herself to be the whistleblower behind a massive exposure of the inner workings at Facebook.
Prior to appearing on 60 Minutes on Sunday, Haugen, a former employee at the social media giant, kept her identity a secret after sharing thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents to the media and federal law enforcement.
Haugen’s planned testimony this week, as well as the information she shared so far, suggests the company deceived the public and its investors about its ability to deal with hate speech and misinformation on its platform.
“Facebook over and over again has shown it chooses profit over safety,” she said during the interview on Sunday.
Haugen’s document dump, her testimony scheduled in front of Congress this week, and an ongoing investigative reporting series into the company are potentially pushing Facebook into its biggest crisis yet. The negative spotlight also comes as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are increasingly scrutinizing Facebook’s actions.
The Facebook Files reveals major issues
Facebook issued a lengthy statement from director of policy communications Lena Pietsch titled “Missing Facts from Tonight’s 60 Minutes Segment.”
She pointed to Facebook’s investment to monitor for harmful content; disputed the way Facebook’s own research on teenagers’ mental health has been reported; and rejected the claim that the social network has furthered political polarization.
Recent reporting by The Wall Street Journal had already put Facebook in the spotlight. Haugen shared thousands of Facebook documents with the newspaper that went into the creation of the Facebook Files series.
So far the newspaper has revealed how anti-COVID-19 vaccine information flourished on Facebook. It also reported how separate rules allegedly apply to celebrities and politicians on the site. Facebook allowed VIP users to, for a time, avoid penalties for bad behavior, according to the report.
Haugen has also detailed how she says Facebook quickly disbanded its civic integrity team — responsible for protecting the democratic process and tackling misinformation — after the 2020 U.S. election. Shortly afterward came the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, in which organizers used Facebook to help plan.
“I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous,” Haugen told 60 Minutes.
Remember Cambridge Analytica?
Facebook started in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm. Now it’s estimated to be worth $1 trillion. As it has grown, so too have its controversies.
The company faced massive blowback from users, politicians and regulators following the Cambridge Analytica debacle more than three years ago.
A whistleblower named Christopher Wylie went public in 2018 exposing how millions of Facebook users’ personal data was accessed, without the users’ consent, by the U.K. firm Cambridge Analytica. The now-defunct company used this information to attempt to influence several elections around the world, including the U.K.’s Brexit vote on leaving the European Union.
Three years later, Facebook, which has maintained no liability in the Cambridge Analytica dealings, walked away from the entire episode relatively unscathed.
Facebook paid a $5 billion penalty to the Federal Trade Commission to resolve a sweeping investigation into its privacy practices prompted by the scandal, as well as a £500,000 (about $643,000) fine to the U.K. government. But critics said the FTC fine, while the largest privacy settlement in the agency’s history, amounted to a slap on the wrist, given that it equated to about a month of revenue for Facebook.
In 2020, Facebook was criticized yet again for how it regulates political ads and misinformation on its platform, but no regulatory changes came of the criticism.
Lawmakers talk regulations
After the Haugen interview aired on 60 Minutes, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal shared on Twitter, “Facebook’s actions make clear that we cannot trust it to police itself. We must consider stronger oversight, effective protections for children, & tools for parents, among the needed reforms.”
For years, Congress has been stuck in an ongoing debate over how best to regulate Big Tech — even as Facebook says its welcomes updated regulations.
In June, House lawmakers introduced sweeping antitrust reforms aimed at Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bills, but they have not been brought for a floor vote.
The scrutiny Facebook now faces could push lawmakers to act.
During a hearing last week, lawmakers examined allegations that Facebook’s own internal research showed its platforms are negatively affecting the mental health of millions of mostly teenage girls.
“This is your company’s reporting. You knew this was there. You knew it was there, but you didn’t do anything about it,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the subcommittee’s ranking member, referring to internal documents about the prevalence of sex trafficking on Facebook.
Facebook has said the research was taken out of context.
Haugen contacted state officials and the SEC
Other regulatory agencies aren’t waiting for Congress.
Facebook is facing an antitrust lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission, which is demanding that the company sell or spin off Instagram and What’sApp.
With these latest allegations, Facebook could soon be facing heat from other regulators.
Haugen and her attorney John Tye shared that she has filed at least eight complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
These complaints focus on the prevalence of hate speech on Facebook, misrepresentations about the site’s role during the Capitol insurrection, and the dangers children face on the site.
Tye, who spoke with NPR, said those allegations involve the difference between what Facebook knew about its platform and what it said publicly. He said misleading investors is a crime under U.S. securities law.
Haugen’s documents have also been shared with the state attorneys general for California, Vermont, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Nebraska, Tye told The New York Times.
It’s unclear whether the SEC or those state attorneys general plan to address Haugen’s complaints.
Editor’s note: Facebook is among NPR’s financial supporters.
NPR’s Bobby Allyn and Shannon Bond contributed to this report.
An earlier version of the web story said Facebook issued a statement about the 60 Minutes segment before it aired. In fact, the statement was issued after the segment aired. And the story stated that the FTC’s lawsuit against Facebook introduced a demand in August that the company sell Instagram and What’sApp; in fact, the demand was part of the lawsuit prior to that time.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey
Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.
Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.
However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.
On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.
Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal
In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.
In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.
Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws
It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.
Russian social media laws
As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.
Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses
Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.
The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.
With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.
Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.
Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to email@example.com.