Oct 3, 2021 - Technology

Whistleblower says Facebook chooses profits over public safety

Photo: Robert Fortunato for CBS News

The whistleblower who leaked thousands of internal Facebook documents to the Wall Street Journal revealed herself Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes" as Frances Haugen, a former lead product manager on the company's civic misinformation team.

Why it matters: On the show, Haugen said she realized this year that she needed to take tens of thousands of pages of documents so that "no one can question that this is real."

  • "Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety," she said. "It is subsidizing, it is paying for its profits with our safety."

Details: In an interview with CBS' Scott Pelley, Haugen said that her lawyers have filed at least eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission that point to discrepancies between Facebook's internal research and the company's external statements on issues like hate speech and mental health.

  • "The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook," she said. "And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money."
  • Haugen also claimed that one internal study suggested that Facebook only took action on 3-5% of hate speech and about 0.6-1% of violence and incitement content on Facebook. Facebook's latest community standards enforcement report says that hate speech only accounted for 0.05% of all content views in Q1.

Haugen, 37, is a long-time Silicon Valley product manager whose previous jobs included stints at Google, Pinterest and Yelp. She resigned from the company in the spring.

  • "I've seen a bunch of social networks and it was substantially worse at Facebook than anything I'd seen before," she told Pelley.
  • In a profile posted by the Wall Street Journal Sunday, Haugen said she sifted through the company's internal social network, Facebook Workplace, to look for examples of places Facebook ignored user safety concerns. She said she expected to be caught.

The other side: "Every day our teams have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place," Facebook spokesperson Lena Pietsch said in a statement. "We've made important improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content, know about it, and do nothing is just not true."

The big picture: Facebook has put global head of safety Antigone Davis and Nick Clegg, its head of global policy, at the center of its defense in response to the documents and reporting leaked to the Journal.

  • In an interview with CNN Sunday, Clegg defended the research Facebook commissioned about the way Instagram impacts the mental health of teens.
  • "Our job is to mitigate the bad, reduce it and amplify the good. And that’s what this research is all about," he said. "I think we do more than anyone else in the industry. I think we do more than any reasonable person can expect to."

Be smart: Facebook's Davis told members of the Senate in a hearing last week that the company wouldn’t retaliate against the whistleblower for going to Congress. That left unanswered whether the company might try to go after her for leaking internal documents to the Wall Street Journal.

What's next: Haugen will testify in a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment from Facebook.

Go deeper