part one: two testimonies, one story
Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen’s background was impressive.
After working for big name tech giants Google, Pinterest, and Yelp, it’s no surprise in just two years, she found major weaknesses in Facebook’s inner sanctum. Elite favoritism and allegations of inciting riots aside, one shocking realization was workers who not only knew Instagram was harmful to teen girls, they did absolutely nothing to solve the issue. Before leaving, she copied thousands of documents and shared them with Wall Street Journal before advancing to the next level: lawmakers.
First, Congress. Much of the conversation revolved around harmful algorithms, which rely on engagement, aka likes, comments and interests. Like the arguments against data mining (using internet history for targeting ads), Algorithms determine content by interest. So, if a young girl looks up petting kittens, more than likely her feed will include several pet stores and Instafamous felines. But if the interest is skinny models and how to be like them…it’s not good. Next was Parliament, where Haugen was invited to testify before their Online Safety Bill committee. She said Facebook and Instagram, for all intense and purposes, was a bad place to be for children and that the latter created comparisons of lifestyles instead of producing discussions about them. At the end of the day, they only cared about profits and nothing else.
In the middle of all the drama, Sophie Zhang’s name rose out of the ashes.
Also a former data scientist, she was fired after three years because her own concerns about misinformation became too much to deal with. The response? She wrote a detailed dirty laundry list of a memo reported on by the likes of The Guardian. She also sent documentation to law enforcement and voiced her support of Haugen, calling for bipartisan legislation to prevent more harm from coming to children.
Facebook executives responded to the whistleblowers by saying they weren’t being entirely truthful about company values. Mark Zuckerberg released a statement with the whistleblowers not necessarily being addressed directly but reiterated the company’s values like caring about people and wanting to see them connect in a positive way.
However, that wasn’t enough for lawmakers, who took Haugen’s testimony to heart and vowed to put an end to Doctor Zuckerberg’s tyranny…