Reuters. File photo: Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen Washir testified during a Senate Committee on Trade, Science and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill entitled ‘Protecting Kids Online: Evidence from Facebook Whistleblower’
By Paul Sandel and Kate Holton
LONDON (Reuters) – Facebook (NASDAQ 🙂 will ignite more violent instability around the world if it does not stop pushing its algorithms to extreme and divisive content, whistleblower Frances Haugen told the British Parliament on Monday.
The former employee, who accused the social media giant of making profits in public in a Senate subcommittee earlier this month, said he was encouraged by the British plan to force large technology companies to tackle harmful content on their platforms.
Facebook, Haugen said, sees online security as a cost and has turned a start-up culture into a lion’s share where corner cutting is good. “Undoubtedly it’s making hate worse,” he said.
Focusing on the United States, the company was deliberately blind to its impact in many markets where the lack of local-language staff meant it often failed to understand the toxic or dangerous nature of messages on its platform, he said.
Rejecting allegations by the world’s largest social network, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this month that it was deeply unreasonable to argue that Facebook had deliberately pushed content that angered people.
Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, has been accused by U.S. lawmakers of pursuing high profits by riding on user protection.
The UK is bringing in legislation that could fine social media companies up to 10% of their turnover if they fail to remove or restrict illegal content.
“The things we’re seeing around the world, things like Myanmar and Ethiopia, are just the beginning because engagement-based rankings do two things: first, it prioritizes and expands the extreme content of divisiveness and polarization, and second, it focuses on it,” Haugen said.
Facebook, which operates in more than 190 countries and boasts more than 2.8 billion monthly users, declined to comment immediately in response to Haugen’s committee presence.
Haugen told a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing in October that Facebook had created a way to keep users scrolling even though it was detrimental to their well-being.
He further added that he provided documents used in the Wall Street Journal’s investigation and a hearing at the Senate on Instagram’s harms to teenage girls. He compared the platform to addictive substances such as tobacco and opioids.
The British Home Secretary wants stricter laws
Ahead of Monday’s hearing, Haugen met with the country’s interior minister, Preity Zinta, who was in favor of tougher legislation for technology platforms that failed to keep users safe.
He is scheduled to address a major technology conference next week, the Web Summit and European policymakers in Brussels.
Highlighting the impact of Instagram on the mental health of some young users, he said Monday, “Facebook is reluctant to accept even a small portion of the profits sacrificed for security, and this is not acceptable.”
Reuters, along with other news agencies, has seen documents released by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Haugen in Congress.
They showed that Facebook knows it has not hired enough staff who have both language skills and knowledge of local events to identify offensive posts from users in several developing countries.