#WebSummit2021: Facebook Whistleblower Denounces Meta Rebrand and Calls for Zuckerberg to Step Down

Facebook prioritizes profits over user safety, according to whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen. She took to the stage at the opening ceremony of Web Summit – her first public address since leaking a collection of damaging Facebook documents – to denounce the social media company’s decisions and ethics.

The interview, led by Laurie Segall, founder and CEO of Dot Dot Media, delved into the motivation behind Haugen’s decision to leave Facebook and expose the social media company’s practices and priorities by leaking internal documents.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity to bring this to life as there has been a pattern of behavior where Facebook has consistently prioritized their profits over our safety,” said Haugen. “Facebook’s content algorithm amplifies the most extreme, polarizing and divisive content.”

Haugen compares this to the three social media companies she worked for before Facebook. “It became evident to me that things were substantially worse [at Facebook] than anything else I’d seen.” She suggests that this perhaps gave her the foundation of comparison and the confidence to speak out when other employees did not.

Facebook, Haugen said, tries to reduce the user’s choice down to a false choice: “They try to frame it as ‘do you want censorship?’ or ‘do you want free speech?’… Transparency or privacy. It’s a false choice.” However, she countered, “non content-based solutions exist and are effective to make Facebook safer. Bad people and bad ideas is not the problem; it’s the question of who gets the largest megaphone.”

"Facebook has consistently prioritized their profits over our safety"Haugen

Facebook is reliant on huge groups, with millions of members, “and it ties their hands with those groups because in order to get three pieces of content from that group each day, the algorithm has to work out which three pieces of content to put on your feeds.” Right now, she explains, the most extreme and polarizing content makes the cut.

“One of the things that Facebook has that is different than Twitter, is that at Twitter, the branch that makes decisions about safe content and safety on the platform reports through a different chain to the chain that is responsible for making politicians happy. At Facebook, those organizations report to the same people.

Segall’s presented Haugen with Facebook’s accusation that she “cherry picked the documents, taken out of context, to paint a particularly negative picture of the social media giant. Haugen responded: “There is a really easy solution – I could just release more documents.”

“There are major tech companies, like Google and Twitter that are substantially more transparent than Facebook,” said Haugen. “They have a fire hose. But things that make it onto Facebook get caught by the Twitter fire hose, and that’s a red flag.”

Haugen refers to advice given to her by her mother: “Every human being deserves the dignity of knowing the truth. I truly believe that our society also deserves the truth, so we can make decisions for the public good.”

Haugen was also questioned on whether Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, should remain at the helm. "Facebook would be stronger with someone who was willing to focus on safety,” she considered. “I think it is unlikely the company will change if [Zuckerberg] remains the CEO." Loud applause from the Web Summit audience of 40,000 rewarded this opinion.

Asked about her opinion on the social media company’s recent rebrand – last week Facebook announced it is changing its name to Meta to focus on building the “metaverse” – Haugen was both cynical and critical. “Instead of investing in making people safe, [Facebook] is investing that money in video games instead, and I can’t imagine how that makes sense.” The rebrand, she concluded, makes no sense given the security issues that are yet to be tackled.

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