Canada could lead coalition to force change at Facebook, says whistleblower Frances Haugen


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Canada has an “incredible opportunity” to lead a coalition of small countries in holding Facebook to account, said former employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen.

“If you can bring together 100 million, 200 million people — you know, countries — you can force change from Facebook,” said Haugen, who left his post as chief product officer at the social media giant in last May and revealed thousands of the company’s internal documents to the media.

Haugen accused Facebook of putting profits before the well-being of its users – failing to protect children and their mental health, fueling misinformation and inciting political violence. She also called for stricter government oversight to address these issues.

“I have confidence that Canada could be a leader in driving this change,” she said. The stream Matt Galloway.

Haugen said she disagreed with the idea that bigger powers, like the United States and the European Union, should lead the charge.

She pointed to the UK, which introduced last year sweeping regulations (and potentially hefty fines) about how websites and apps interact with children online and how their data may be used.

WATCH | Canada could be leading a ‘coalition for change’, says a whistleblower on Facebook:

Canada could lead coalition to force Facebook change: whistleblower

Smaller countries could unite to demand change from tech giant, says former Facebook employee Frances Haugen 2:43

Consequently the new rules, TikTok stopped sending notifications to younger users later in the evening, and YouTube removed the video autoplay feature for users aged 13 to 17. Facebook exempted users under 18 from certain forms of targeted advertising, while the company’s Instagram platform made accounts for teenage users private by default.

Haugen said Facebook made the changes globally because it was difficult to customize services in multiple countries.

A coalition of countries led by Canada could seek similar changes, she said, through coordinated legislation that demands corporate transparency and accountability.

“The reality is that Facebook has to live in the house of democracy, right?” she said.

After Haugen went public in October, social media experts told CBC News that social platforms were unlikely to solve problems on their own and needed government involvement.

The federal Liberal government tabled three bills regarding online protections during the last session of Parliament:

The federal government introduced three bills regarding protecting Canadians online in the last Parliament, but all died when the election was called in August. (Jenny Kane/Associated Press)

All three bills died when Parliament was dissolved in August ahead of the federal election, although the Liberals pledged to resuscitate them.

The stream asked Canadian Heritage — which co-leads federal efforts to regulate internet giants — for comment, but did not receive a response as of press time.

“Impass” on problem solving

Haugen started working at Facebook in 2019, hoping to help address misinformation issues on the platform, but said he quickly noticed a “dead end”.

“The problem is the people whose job it is to find those problems, and the people whose job it is to allow those problems to be fixed, are different people,” she said.

If solving a problem doesn’t match the incentives of those authorized to solve it — such as growing the business — it hasn’t been solved, she said.

Haugen said she believes Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg “needs to learn to be a slightly different leader now.” (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

Part of Haugen’s job was on the Civic Integrity Team, which she described as being responsible for making Facebook a “positive force in politics.” But that team disbanded a month after the 2020 U.S. presidential election, its staff moved to a a larger backup team that did not have a specific policy mandate.

It was then that Haugen decided to go public with his concerns.

“It showed a level of lack of commitment and, like, blindness, that I was like, ‘This just isn’t acceptable.’ You can’t have such a dangerous force that believes itself to be safe,” she said.

Haugen took photos of internal documents before he left, which became the basis for a series of Wall Street Journal revelations.

Facebook did not seek to “incite rage”

Among his allegations were that the company was aware that its Instagram platform could have a negative impact on body image and the mental health of its users, but it did nothing — something that particularly concerned U.S. lawmakers when Haugen testified before a Senate committee last October.

At the time, Facebook responded that “the story focuses on a limited set of results and casts them in a negative light,” but it sticks to research.

Haugen also alleged that an algorithm change in 2018 prioritized displaying user content with more comments or shares, but much of that engagement was negative, such as people arguing in comment threads.

While the new algorithm has brought more attention to divisive content, she said, it has also increased the time users spend on the platform, which in turn has increased revenue for users. digital ad sales.

WATCH | Facebook chooses profits over safety, Haugen testifies:

Ex-Facebook data scientist asks Congress to intervene in social media firm’s actions

Former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower Frances Haugen has urged US lawmakers to intervene in the social media giant’s operations. Speaking before a Senate panel, Haugen explained how Facebook knew its products and algorithms were directing users to dangerous and toxic content, but did nothing about it. 2:37

Haugen said The stream she didn’t think the company was trying to “incite rage”, but it happened as part of an overall drive to increase interaction on the site. “They didn’t spend enough on security systems or monitoring these issues. That was the real problem,” she said.

In a statement emailed to The stream, a spokesperson for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said the premise at the center of Haugen’s claims was “false”.

“Yes, we are a business and we make a profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or well-being does not understand where our own business interests lie.”

The statement further states that Facebook has “more than 40,000 people doing a job: keeping people safe on our services.”

I think we probably need a different leader because he hasn’t shown a willingness to change.– Frances Haugen on Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Haugen said advocates have long expressed concerns about Facebook’s operations and impact, but transparency has been a key issue.

When concerns are raised, she said, the company often downplays external evidence as “anecdotal,” without revealing its own investigations into the issues or outlining corrective actions taken.

She described a hypothetical scenario where children are feared to be exposed to messages about self-harm. Through the legislation, she said, Facebook could be forced to track and report how many children see this content and how often.

“Imagine a world where that number is reported. Would Facebook get better at self-harming content? Almost certainly. So we need to change that dynamic,” she said.

Zuckerberg has shown no ‘willingness to change’

After Haugen’s testimony last October, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the allegations misrepresent Facebook’s work and priorities.

Later that month, Facebook Inc. was renamed Meta, with Zuckerberg presenting a vision of a digital world where people can use avatars to play games together or attend virtual concerts.

For Haugen, this pivot to “video games and the metaverse” shows that Zuckerberg is still primarily interested in growing the business – something he has been richly rewarded for over the years – rather than solving its problems. .

WATCH | Mark Zuckerberg has been richly rewarded for growing the site, the whistleblower says:

Is Mark Zuckerberg the right person to fix Facebook?

For years, Zuckerberg focused on growth and the rewards it brought, says whistleblower Frances Haugen 1:59

She expressed empathy that “Mark is in a really tough spot because he has to learn to be a slightly different leader now,” but said it’s something she’s not sure. be ready to do – and that the company might need a new leader.

“Although I’m sure if he wanted to go that route, he could,” she said.

Haugen also said she would work for Facebook again, should the company ask her to return.

“I believe this is the biggest problem in the world and we have to, have to, have to solve it.”

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Ben Jamieson.


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