SOCIAL MEDIA – Did Facebook unwittingly play a role in the violent assault on Capitol Hill by supporters of Donald Trump in January? This is what a former employee of the company said on Sunday October 3.
Frances Haugen is a former Facebook engineer, assigned, at her request, to the “Civic Integrity” department, which was interested in the risks that certain users or certain content could pose for the good conduct of elections. After leaving the company in May, she leaked documents from internal company research and potentially embarrassing: some related, for example, to ongoing studies on Instagram and its version for children, a project now on hold.
This Sunday, the whistleblower appeared for the first time with her face uncovered in an interview with the American channel CBS, before a hearing Tuesday by the Committee on Commerce of the United States Senate. And she spoke of Facebook’s unintended but real role in the assault on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021.
Protection algorithms removed too quickly
According to her, the reason is to be found on the side of the algorithms put in place by Facebook. Before the US presidential election in November 2020, the social network had modified them to reduce the spread of false information. But according to the whistleblower, “as soon as the election was over,” the group reconfigured them as before, “to prioritize growth over safety,” she said in his interview on the program “60 Minutes”, on CBS.
It was after the return to old algorithms that many Facebook users used the platform to mobilize for the events of January 6, which led to the intrusion on the Capitol, explains the former employee.
“There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public, and what was good for Facebook,” insisted Frances Haugen, and the group, “one occasion after another, chose to put their interests first, which is to say make more money. ”“ I saw a lot of social networks, and the situation at Facebook was noticeably worse than anything I had seen before, ”said the engineer, passed by the dating site Hinge, but also Yelp or Pinterest.
Facebook defends itself
Before the interview with the whistleblower was broadcast, Facebook tried to limit the damage by giving CNN an interview with group vice president Nick Clegg.
Responsibility for “the insurgency” at the seat of Congress “lies with those who inflicted the violence and those who encouraged it, including President (Donald) Trump,” Nick Clegg retorted.
The vice-president of the platform judged “too easy to seek a technological explanation for the political polarization in the United States”. He admitted, however, that Facebook should try to “understand how (it) contributes to negative and extreme content, hate speech and disinformation”.
“No one at Facebook is malicious,” said the whistleblower. “But the interests are not aligned.”
For her, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, has never sought to make Facebook a hate platform, “but he allowed choices to be made”, promoting the dissemination of hateful content.
“Facebook’s actions clearly show that it will not reform alone,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, member of the Senate committee in a statement. “We need to consider stricter regulation.”
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