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‘Profits Before People’: Facebook Whistleblower Claims Site Harms Children

Frances Haugen, a whistleblower at Facebook, claims that the company is harming children and undermining democracy.

Credit: CNBC/YouTube

In her recent congressional testimony, Frances Haugen, a whistleblower at Facebook, claimed that Facebook has put “astronomical profits before people” by refusing to fix issues on the website. 

The former product manager claimed that the social media giant intentionally targets both young teens and “definitely” targets young children through the messenger kids app. 

Haugen came forward as an anonymous source who leaked internal reports from Facebook which were published in The Wallstreet Journal last month. Haugen gathered an array of reports and data in an attempt to demonstrate that Facebook intentionally chose not to fix issues on its platform, issues Haugen claims “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy”. 

The documents reveal that Facebook was aware that its content was damaging teenagers’ mental health, with Haugen claiming the appeal of other platforms owned by Facebook- such as Instagram” as being “just like cigarettes”. 

She also told the Senate that the company was aware that young Instagram users were being led to “anorexia-promoting content over a very short period of time” due to an algorithm which “led children from very innocuous topics like healthy recipes” to content related to eating disorders. 

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer,” she told Senators, “but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.”

Haugen goes on to liken the social media company to the tobacco industry and opioid firms, both of which were subject to government intervention when it became apparent that they were posing serious health risks to the public. 

“When we figured out cars were safer with seatbelts,” she goes on to say, “the government took action… I implore you to do the same here.” 

In her congressional statement, Haugen also claimed that Facebook was “literally fanning ethnic violence” in developing nations, and has been exacerbated by changes made to Facebook’s News Feed feature, which exposes users to more polarising and divisive content.

Haugen warns that without urgent action, she fears that “what we saw in Myanmar and are now seeing in Ethiopia are only the opening chapters of a story so terrifying no one wants to read the end of it.” 

She also goes on to detail her disgust that Facebook had to “break the glass” in the aftermath of the Storming of The Capitol on January 6th, 2021 by rioters who sought to overturn the 2020 US presidential election results.

Haugen claimed that the company had dropped safety settings and precautions following Joe Biden’s victory which had been put in place in the run-up to the November election. She claims this was done in the hopes of boosting activity on the site. 

While Facebook has issued a number of statements in an attempt to downplay Haugen’s claims, it is clear that these accusations are putting pressure on US lawmakers to take action, with Senator Ed Markey stating, “Congress will be taking action. We will not allow [Facebook] to harm our children and our families and our democracy, any longer.”

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