A former Facebook employee has been unmasked as responsible for the latest leaks about the operation of the social network.
The internal documents, published by the Wall Street Journal, were obtained by Frances Haugen last May, when she left Facebook after realizing “what her future would be like” if she continued with the company.
Haugen is a data scientist who was part of Civic Integrity, a Facebook unit dedicated to fighting political disinformation on the platform; Facebook shut down the group after the 2020 U.S. elections, just as voter fraud conspiracies soared , ending in the assault on Capitol Hill to prevent the appointment of Joe Biden as the new president. That Facebook had a role in the events of that day is “ridiculous”, according to the representative of Facebook, and British Deputy Prime Minister until 2015, Nick Clegg.
However, Haugen affirmed in an interview with the American program 60 Minutes that the Facebook algorithm chooses content that angers users , because it knows that this is what generates more reactions or ‘engagement’; and the publications with the most user participation are the ones that make the most money, due to related advertising.
According to the leaked documents, Facebook’s own internal investigations reveal that hateful and divisive content inspires more anger than other emotions; the algorithm takes into account ‘thousands’ of factors, but Facebook would have chosen those that generate the most reactions. Hauger goes so far as to claim that Facebook has realized that it could make a “more secure” algorithm, but in that case people would spend less time on Facebook , click on fewer ads, and earn less money.
This does not affect only the US: the effects of the algorithm are already being felt in Europe. The European political parties would have been forced to hire more negative ads to get ‘engagement’ on Facebook and according to Haugen, the parties are taking positions with which they are not comfortable, because otherwise they would not win on social networks.
The role of Instagram has received special attention, specifically in its effect on minors. According to internal Facebook research, 13.5% of teenage girls believe that Instagram encourages thoughts of suicide , and 17% believe that it worsens their eating disorders.
Facebook’s response to these publications and disclosures from Haugen has focused on remembering that these studies are internal and that shows an interest of the company to improve. Facebook says that if one of the studies had identified a solution to these “complex challenges”, the whole of society would have already implemented it, and that despite that, it has already achieved significant improvements against misinformation and harmful content. Lastly, to suggest that it encourages such bad content is simply not true, according to company representatives.