Sep 7, 2022 - Technology

Facebook whistleblower is still pushing for change

Photo of Frances Haugen in a black sweater sitting in a red chair
Frances Haugen at the Code Conference. Photo: Getty Images for Vox Media

Frances Haugen says much hasn't changed in Meta and in society in the year since she blew the whistle on her former employer.

The big picture: Haugen said that while much of the discussion and decisions about big tech's problems are made in the U.S., some of the most severe consequences are felt in non-English speaking countries where lives are being lost because misinformation and authoritarianism are flourishing on Facebook.

  • "There’s a huge discussion that hasn’t come to fruition yet," Haugen said, speaking Tuesday at Code Conference in Los Angeles.

Yes, but: Haugen said new laws in Europe and greater attention to the mental health effects of social media are among the positive developments after her disclosures to the Wall Street Journal and regulators around the world.

  • Haugen pointed to both the EU's digital services law as well as the first-ever protections for European whistleblowers as the most positive developments over the past year.

Between the lines: Haugen says that the tech industry thinks if change doesn't happen in a couple of years it won't happen at all. But that need not be the case with social media regulation and reform.

  • "The arc of history is much longer," Haugen said. "We are starting 15 years to 20 years behind. It’s going to look slow."

What's next: Haugen is working on a simulated social network that educators can use to train the next generation of social media entrepreneurs and content moderators to see how their product design choices play out.

  • "I want to have students sit in those seats and argue about it," she said.
  • Haugen noted that not everything has to be a trade-off between free speech and online safety. Simple choices, such as suggesting people read articles before sharing, can have a huge impact on slowing misinformation.
  • "It's not obvious a change that small would have that big an impact," she said.
Go deeper