The Facebook Whistleblowers & You
Facebook has become a major part of our lives. You can’t avoid it, it’s everywhere. People use it for their business, for news, and how else could we possibly remember everyone’s birthdays? But what started as a way to keep in touch with friends and family has become a powerful player in the world. Is that power being checked?
Who is the Facebook whistleblower?
By now, you’ve heard about the Facebook whistleblower. That may be all you know, though. Data scientist Frances Haugen shared thousands of private Facebook documents with lawmakers, regulators and The Wall Street Journal. She also spoke before a Senate subcommittee about security issues with Facebook. She’s also not the only whistleblower.
How can a service that’s completely free be worth so much money and have so much power? First, Facebook’s not exactly free. You are paying Facebook with your information and attention. Facebook’s power in the world comes from all of the people on the site. Facebook has monetized your attention, your clicks, and your information.
Things have evolved far beyond just likes and comments. Facebook, for some, is their only access point to the Internet. In some poor countries, Facebook is the Internet. That’s a startling amount of power for a social networking site.
Leaked files from Haugen highlight how Facebook employees felt about the events of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. The running issue is, according to Haugen and her documents, that Facebook, despite its own independent research, has prioritized profits over the collective good.
The Main Issues with Facebook according to the Whistleblower
The problem with Facebook
Haugen testified to the Senate: “Until the incentives change, Facebook will not change. Left alone, Facebook will continue to make choices that go against the common good, our common good.”
The main issues she covered was how Facebook ignored how addictive it was to children, the mental and emotional damage to its coveted teenage market, the spread of harmful misinformation, and even issues of national and international security.
Facebook is a monolith. They have the money to do their own independent research. But if no one sees the data they can’t know about any problems. Haugen leaked some studies with startling stats including 13.5% of U.K. teen girls said their suicidal thoughts were more frequent after starting to use Instagram, 17% of teen girls say their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram and 32% said Instagram made them feel worse.
This issue has united both Republicans and Democrats is a need to keep an eye on Facebook. There are concerns over the potential psychological and emotional damage that addictive social media and problematic algorithms can have on children. For example, if a young girl is being overloaded with photographs of rail-thin models, how can she opt-out?
Now in talking about adults, we’ve all been surrounded by problematic politics that we’d just as soon not read about. But the second that you decide to mouth off to your relatives about how something isn’t true, you are more likely to get similar posts.
Facebook values profit over the truth
Haugen, responsible for studying misinformation, saw that Facebook was not prioritizing truth over profit. The media coverage surrounding Haugen helped elevate the story of another Facebook whistleblower.
Former Facebook employee Sophie Zhang was responsible for eliminating spam accounts and bots. She turned down a $64,000 severance package to not sign a nondisparagement agreement. She wrote a memo to her former co-workers and it was erased by Facebook. She shared some parts of her memo with BuzzFeed News.
With her sacrifice, Zhang was able to share her concerns over issues of international importance. She shared how Facebook was ignoring how bots that were essentially misinforming people in other countries or being used to sway political favor.
This issue is escalated by the fact that the Cambridge Analytica scandal has often been glossed over. A Facebook app gave access to the account information of friends and family of those who download the app. Cambridge Analytica, a political firm, used that information to help their political candidates.
The reason Facebook’s algorithm is a hot topic is that it sets up a feedback loop. Let’s say you see something you hate and it pushes you to comment. Now that level of engagement will only bring more of that content to you. This is a cause of concern for children who are vulnerable to psychological issues or peer pressure pushing them to stay on social media.
All of this scrutiny is likely to shift things for the better. But misinformation, the effect on children, and the future of these technological giants’ power are in question. At least people are having a proper discussion with more of the facts. Thanks to Haugen and Zhang the world is a lot more knowledgeable about Facebook.
Where does that leave you?
Haugen has never said that Facebook should be destroyed or disbanded. While she has confirmed Mark Zuckerberg may be insanely problematic as the head of this organization, she just mentioned more regulation.
Given all of this information that’s newly out in the open, it’s worth looking at what you’re giving Facebook with regards to your attention, energy, and information. This may make you reconsider how much you share, what you engage in, and the topics that you let take up your feed. You also may want to check out this helpful article to ensure Facebook only has access to what you want them to: How to Manage Privacy Settings on Facebook and Why You Should.
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