Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen has identified herself as the employee who provided federal investigators with internal research that shows the social media giant is aware of how much its platform spreads “hate and misinformation.” During a detailed interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, Haugen laid bare how Facebook’s algorithm essentially feeds off of anger and division, which generates highly profitable levels of engagement. More specifically, Haugen claims to have witnessed first-hand how Facebook’s pursuit of profit over civic duty played a part in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building following Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally.
According to Haugen, Facebook began loosening content restrictions in the aftermath of the 2020 election instead of curtailing the onslaught of conspiracy theories claiming that Trump was the real winner. Via Associated Press:
She said Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and rabble rousing after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, alleging that contributed to the deadly Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
Post-election, the company dissolved a unit on civic integrity where she had been working, which Haugen said was the moment she realized “I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.”
Haugen will be testifying in front of Congress this week, which will almost certainly be a circus as social media has been a playground for conspiracy minded politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz, just to name a few. However, Haugen’s finds shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who understands the basics of content engagement, which requires a level of civic responsibility when you have the massive reach that Facebook currently enjoys.
“No one at Facebook is malevolent,” Haugen said. “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.”