Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is interviewed by Scott Pelley for a CBS News 60 Minutes program
Credit: Robert Fortunato/CBS News/60MINU
A whistleblower who claims Facebook has prioritised profits over safety and leaked thousands of pages of documents on the tech company will appear before MPs to present her case.
Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old former product manager at Facebook, will give evidence to MPs scrutinising the upcoming Online Safety Bill this month.
Damian Collins, a Conservative MP and chairman of the Joint Committee on the Online Safety Bill, said: “[Frances Haugen’s] central allegation is fundamental. It is that Facebook is well aware of the problems on the platform, and that extreme and controversial content drives engagement. That is their business and how they make money.”
The committee will also scrutinise industry executives from technology firms at its upcoming hearings. The Online Safety Bill imposes a duty of care over illegal and “harmful” online posts.
It will give UK regulators the power to fine technology companies fines worth up to 10pc of their turnover for failings.
Ms Haugen has leaked a string of internal documents from Facebook in recent weeks.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen talks with CBS' Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes"
Credit: Robert Fortunato/CBS News/60 Minutes via AP
These have included private discussions over how the company’s Instagram product makes depression and body image issues worse in teenage girls, and how it turned off key safety systems in the run up to riots in Washington DC on January 6.
After several anonymous leaks of sensitive documents, reported by the Wall Street Journal, Ms Haugen revealed her identity on Sunday. She is due to testify in front of Senators in the US on Tuesday.
She told CBS’s 60 Minutes: “Facebook over and over again has shown it chooses profit over safety. It is subsidising, it is paying for its profits with our safety.
“Its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarising – it is easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.
“Facebook has realised that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they will click on less ads, they will make less money.”
Appeals upheld by Facebook’s moderators (Q3 2019)
Ms Haugen has filed eight complaints with US regulators, alleging the company is withholding information about its failings from investors and the public.
She added that Facebook disbanded a “Civic Integrity” team that had been set up to cover the US elections for disinformation, shortly before rioting consumed Capitol Hill on January 6. Facebook said members of the team continued work as part of a broader unit.
Nick Clegg, the former deputy Prime Minister and Facebook’s public affairs chief, said on Sunday it was “ludicrous” to blame the social network for violence earlier this year.
The tech giant has disputed reports surrounding Ms Haugen’s leaks. It said it was not true that Instagram was “toxic”. It said: “This research, like external research on these issues, found teens report having both positive and negative experiences with social media.”
In response to Ms Haugen’s interview, a Facebook spokesman said: “We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.”
Facebook shares were down 5.5pc to $323.8 on Monday.