Tech

The revelations of Frances Haugen on Facebook will they change the social network?

The whistleblower through whom the Wall Street Journal exposed serious dysfunctions within Facebook revealed her identity. Frances Haugen, former product manager engineer, this time publicly denounced the choices made by the platform and which actively promote, according to her, disinformation.

Facebook has undoubtedly experienced one of the most stressful Mondays in its history: the group suffered from an unprecedented global outage that made its platform and its services (Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger) inaccessible for hours. As surprising as it may seem, however, it is not the most worrying element of the start of the week for Facebook.

On Sunday, October 3, the whistleblower who provided most of the evidence for the Wall Street Journal’s damning series of investigations on Facebook revealed her identity, during an interview given to the American TV channel CBS: he is is Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who previously worked for other leading web companies (Google, Pinterest, etc.). This strong action was accompanied by positions that show that it intends to continue to alert on the risks that the functioning of the social network poses, according to it, on the political and societal level. She is also heard this October 5 by the US Senate on this subject.

Source: Nino Barbey for Numerama

What denounces the whistleblower Frances Haugen on Facebook?

The whistleblower points to the significant conflicts of interest facing Facebook: its interest (holding the public’s attention) is not necessarily aligned with those of its users (discussing, having fun, but also obtaining reliable information). And according to Frances Haugens, the company does not respond ethically, clearly favoring ” profits at the expense of our security “.

According to her, the web giant is hiding information that could reveal to what extent Facebook can – and is – exploited by malicious actors (to spread false information, hateful content, etc.). She also accuses society not only of tolerating this type of content, but also of having designed an algorithm that tends to highlight them more than others. As we explained to you a short while ago, Facebook’s algorithm grants 5 points each time an “angry” reaction is used on a publication, while a “like” is only worth just one point. The “love” button is also worth 5 points, but since the most divisive posts often receive the most reactions, they are ultimately put more prominently.

Frances Haugen says, for example, that a person who would start following someone like Donald Trump would quickly be offered conspiracy theories (QAnon, etc.). And according to her, Facebook knows full well that it only deals with a small fraction of the disinformation circulating on its platforms, and does not do enough to regulate it.

She also reveals that Facebook is aware that the operation of social networks like Instagram has detrimental effects on many young people. ” 32% of girls said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves », Explains a note from 2020 that she sent to the Wall Street Journal. As early as 2019, a document had circulated internally, explaining that Instagram gave ” a negative image of herself to one in three young girls “.

As a recent issue of our Rule 30 newsletter noted: “ the problem is not only that teenage girls compare themselves to well-made-up and retouched influencers (as one could have done, ten years ago, by looking at a celebrity magazine). It is also very easy to fall into what is called a rabbit hole, a bottomless hole, dedicated to the contents of diet. ” The algorithm then directs very clearly the subjects you are going to think about and the importance you will give them, depending among other things, on the importance they seem to have in society. The polls carried out by Facebook revealing this type of problem have not, however, brought into question the functioning of these networks.

Facebook thinks it does more good than harm

Frances Haugen is campaigning for regulation and not for stopping the platform. ” If my actions were limited to making people hate Facebook more, I would have failed. I believe in truth and reconciliation. We have to see reality as it is. The first step for this is to document the situation She told the Wall Street Journal. ” I like Facebook. I want to save him. She wrote by message when she left, according to the WSJ.

Facebook believes that Frances Haugen’s accusations give a distorted view of reality. Asked by CNN, the VP of Facebook Nick Clegg notably highlighted the human and technical resources deployed to fight against disinformation. ” Even with the most sophisticated technologies (…) and the tens of thousands of people we employ to ensure the security and integrity of the platform, we will never be able to control everything 100%, because it is a instant and spontaneous communication, where billions of humans can communicate with each other, as they wish and when they wish “. Facebook’s central message in this regard is that its social networks are doing more good than harm overall.

Frances Haugen, however, is far from the first person to worry about the functioning of the platform. Many outside researchers who worked on the network’s advertising system have recently denounced the way in which Facebook has stopped their work.

A monopoly situation

Facebook’s dysfunctions are both caused by and amplified by its weight in the economy. Even if Facebook has always defended itself, the global blackout that the company and its various networks faced on October 4 very clearly showed the monopoly it had built for itself. A year ago, the FTC filed a complaint against Facebook for undermining competition. ” While it was no longer able to compete with new innovators, Facebook bought them illegally or buried them when their popularity grew too threatening. », Then indicated Holly Vedova, member of the competition office of the FTC. While the FTC’s complaint has so far been dismissed, the Commission returned to the attack last August and again calls for Facebook to be forced to resell Instagram and WhatsApp.

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