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Facebook whistleblower says social network makes hate ‘unquestionably worse’

Frances Haugen told UK MPs there was a ‘weak spot’ within the tech giant on who you could turn to for escalating concerns.

Frances Haugen.
Frances Haugen.
Image: PA

FACEBOOK HAS BEEN accused of being “very good at dancing with data” and making hate “unquestionably worse” by a former employee turned whistleblower.

Frances Haugen took questions from UK MPs and peers in London this afternoon after releasing thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit.

The whistleblower shed light on her time with the tech giant, saying there was a “weak spot” on who you could turn to for escalating concerns.

“When I worked on counter espionage, I saw things where I was concerned about national security and I had no idea how to escalate those because I didn’t have faith in my chain of command,” she said.

“I flagged repeatedly when I worked on integrity that I felt that critical teams were understaffed.

“Right now there’s no incentives internally, that if you make noise, saying we need more help – people will not get rallied around for help, because everyone is underwater.”

Haugen likened failures at Facebook to an oil spill, telling the Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) that she “came forward now because now is the most critical time to act”.

“When we see something like an oil spill, that oil spill doesn’t make it harder for a society to regulate oil companies.

“But right now the failures of Facebook are making it harder for us to regulate Facebook.”

Instagram

Haugen also said that Facebook’s own research suggested Instagram is dangerous for young people.

She said the firm has the ability to make a “huge dent” on the problem if they wanted to but they do not because “young users are the future of the platform and the earlier they get them the more likely they’ll get them hooked”.

“When I was in high school, it didn’t matter if your experience in high school was horrible, most kids had good homes to go home to and they could at the end of the day disconnect, they would get a break for 16 hours,” she explained.

“Facebook’s own research says now the bullying follows children home, it goes into their bedrooms. The last thing they see at night is someone being cruel to them. The first thing they see in the morning is a hateful statement and that is just so much worse.”

She claimed that the firm’s own research found that Instagram is more dangerous than other social media such as TikTok and Snapchat, because the platform is focused on “social comparison about bodies, about people’s lifestyles, and that’s what ends up being worse for kids”.

Haugen also cast doubt on whether Instagram could ever be made safe for children.

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At present, you must be at least 13 years old to use the service, though it is easy for users to lie about their age.

Facebook was developing an Instagram Kids specifically for children but the idea was put on hold earlier this year due to the raft of concerns.

“I am deeply worried that it may not be possible to make Instagram safe for 14-year-olds and I sincerely doubt it is possible to make it safe for a 10-year-old,” Haugen said.

“What I find very deeply misleading about Facebook’s statements regarding children is they say things like, ‘we need Instagram Kids because kids are going to lie about their age, and so we might as well have a safe thing for them’.

“Facebook should have to publish what they do to detect 13-year-olds on the platform because I guarantee what they’re doing today is not enough.

“Facebook can guess how old you are with a great deal of precision.”

Haugen dismissed claims that she was being used as “a plan to get more censorship” on the internet.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has previously rejected the claims made by Haugen in the US press and before a congressional committee, saying her attacks on the company were “misrepresenting” the work it does.

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