Currently, Facebook has around 2.8 billion active users. It’s a huge virtual network that functions as a platform connecting people from one end of the globe to another. But in recent times, the world has witnessed a huge spike in the number of serious allegations made against the billion-dollar company run by its founder Mark Zuckerberg. These questions are against the very glue which coordinates and holds the entire reality of the virtual “web” together. Hence it’s no surprise that whistleblower Francis Haugen’s recent allegations on the algorithm of Facebook have made a huge impact. The firm was already suffering a spell of downtrodden reputation following the global blackout on 6th October 2021. Due to the blackout, Facebook’s entire suite of apps including WhatsApp and Instagram were unavailable for use globally for six hours.
According to Haugen, the Facebook algorithm is potentially dangerous. It can cause a lot of harm to children and the nation. In reply to Haugen’s explosive comments, the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg was admittedly furious. He lashed out at his former employee. In defense of the company which is his brainchild, Zuckerberg said that she was trying to paint a false picture of the company to disrupt its integrity and her comments don’t show the entire truth.
Who is Frances Haugen?
Francis Haugen is a computer scientist and a former employee at Facebook. She was a product manager in the company’s civic integrity team. Her job was mainly focused on tracking the spread of misinformation on the platform for maintaining a peaceful state of democracy. She worked at Facebook for around two years before quitting in May this year. Before working at Facebook, the engineer had a successful career, working as a product manager at several renowned firms, such as Google, Pinterest, and Yelp.
The allegations against Facebook by Haugen
Haugen provided internal documents of the company for scrutiny by the media regarding her claims on Facebook’s algorithm. She remained an anonymous whistleblower till recent times. On Sunday, her identity was revealed on the CBS network show called “60 minutes”. In her ’60 Minutes’ interview, Haugen claimed she began to lose faith in Facebook soon after her team was disbanded.
Furthermore, on 5th October 2021, she testified before the US Senate that the company’s algorithms are extremely harmful to children of the nation irrespective of their age. She didn’t just stop there and went on to claim that these algorithms stoked division and segregation at a high scale of the population and could weaken the democracy of the country.
With her background of being a computer scientist herself, she asserted her passion for the protection of individuals from violence online. She claimed that the logic behind using the wisdom of crowds to engage them in social media activity is flawed. She says that there are substantial pitfalls in how the different social media companies do so in practice. She even went on to say that the company was hiding its research data from public scrutiny and was operating in the shadows, thus painting an image of foul play. She blamed the company for presenting faulty figures regarding progress made in combating hate speech online. She asserted that the company knowingly allows its platform to be exploited for the sake of spreading hate, false information, and violence.
Zuckerberg took the very platform built by him and the one in question to write a 1300 word long reply to defend his company. The CEO’s main argument was that Haugen was taking research done on the impact of children by Facebook – out of context. He claims that the entire truth is not being showcased to the public and just a fragment of the entire research is being exhibited which is putting the company in a bad light.
Facebook even tried to portray Haugen as a low-level employee who wasn’t aware of what was going on in the company to promote that her claims were baseless. But unfortunately for Facebook, this strategy backfired and rather raised questions regarding the functioning of the company and the secrets they were trying to hide.
Samidh Chakraborty, the head of civic engagement at the company backed Haugen and even claimed that the need for regulation of the company’s algorithms was due. He claimed that related research was needed and appropriate transparency to the public were valid points for debate.