Major Media Downtime

Felix Stoll

News

10/19/2021

The social media world has been rocked by another whistleblower case, this time addressing Facebook. A former Facebook data scientist, Frances Haugen, who had been part of the company back in 2019, came forward with accusations against the multimillion-dollar media company.

Haugen is a thirty-seven-year-old data expert from Iowa who possesses a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in business from Harvard. Before joining the Facebook team, she worked 15 years in the field, holding positions at Google, Pinterest and Yelp.

In 2019 she was recruited to Facebook, where she requested to be placed in the division specializing in fighting misinformation — motivated by her loss of a friend to the conspiracy theory pipeline.

When she came forward, she alleged that Facebook’s algorithm turns a blind eye to misinformation campaigns present on the site due to the company seeking to maximize profit at any expense. The evidence brought forward in her testimony, set in front of the U.S. Senate’s Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection consisted of posts dating back to the 2020 election as well as posts that involve information regarding the January 6 insurrection.

Haugen claims that after President Joe Biden’s win over former President Donald Trump in the past election, Facebook turned off all safeguards against the spread of misinformation. This subsequently led to enough posts being spread to organize the insurrection.

Additionally, she testified that Facebook’s own research clearly shows that the site amplifies hate, misinformation and political unrest, but that the company chose to ignore it.

The accusations that Haugen has made against Facebook come after she released data revealing the potential harm that Facebook’s other app Instagram has on young people– especially teenage girls. Her research shows findings that say that peer pressure from the popular photo-sharing app leads to eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal ideation. These claims were already being investigated by the Senate’s subcommittee before the hearing took place.

Alongside Haugen’s allegations come those of Sophie Zhang, another former Facebook data scientist, who recently testified against Facebook before the British Parliament. She spoke about how Facebook’s policy involves removing fake accounts, but that this is often set aside when it comes to accounts possibly tied to political leaders or organizations. Furthermore, there are no policies against business and organization profiles posting information that could be deemed false.

Mass amounts of coordinated inauthentic behavior, as Facebook identifies it, takes place in the form of fake accounts set up by other countries in order to spread misinformation about American politics, such as accounts tied to Russia in the 2016 election.

Zhang also claims that Facebook does not uphold democracy and is instead interested only in profit.

Facebook’s co-owner and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, has publicly stated that the allegations made against the company are false and have no backing. He asserts that there is no evidence that Facebook is the cause of mass social polarization.

After the whistleblower events came a large-scale media outage on Oct. 4. Facebook, along with their other– apps Messenger, Whatsapp, Instagram, and Oculus– experienced a prolonged downtime. During this downtime, employees reported their badges would not allow them entrance into Facebook buildings.

At one point, the Facebook domain disappeared, leading many to suspect data scrubbing at the company headquarters. Due to the inability to access social media, along with concerns of data safety, many other sites, such as Twitter, experienced an influx in user activity that caused more social media outages.

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