The whistleblower who plunged Facebook into crisis

After a set of leaks last month that represented the most damaging insight into Facebook’s inner workings in the company’s history, the former employee behind them has come forward. Now Frances Haugen has given evidence to the US Congress – and been praised by senators as a ‘21st century American hero’.

The whistleblower who plunged Facebook into crisis

     After a set of leaks last month that represented the most damaging insight into Facebook’s inner workings in the company’s history, the former employee behind them has come forward. Now Frances Haugen has given evidence to the US Congress – and been praised by senators as a ‘21st-century American hero’. Will her testimony accelerate efforts to bring the social media giant to heel?

    On Monday, Facebook and its subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp went dark after a router failure. There were thousands of negative headlines, millions of complaints, and more than 3 billion users were forced offline. On Tuesday, the company’s week got significantly worse.

    Frances Haugen, a former product manager with Facebook, testified before US senators about what she had seen in her two years there – and set out why she had decided to leak a trove of internal documents to the Wall Street Journal. Haugen had revealed herself as the source of the leak a few days earlier. And while the content of the leak – from internal warnings of the harm being done to teenagers by Instagram to the deal Facebook gives celebrities to leave their content unmoderated – had already led to a debate about whether the company needed to reform, Haugen’s decision to come forward escalated the pressure on Mark Zuckerberg.

   In this episode, Nosheeen Iqbal talks to the Guardian’s global technology editor, Dan Milmo, about what we learned from Haugen’s testimony, and how damaging a week this could be for Facebook. Milmo sets out the challenges facing the company as it seeks to argue that the whistleblower is poorly informed or that her criticism is mistaken. And he reflects on what options politicians and regulators around the world will consider as they look for ways to curb Facebook’s power, and how likely such moves are to succeed.

   After Haugen spoke, Zuckerberg said her claims that the company puts profit over people’s safety were “just not true”. In a blog post, he added: “The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical. We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content.” You can read more of Zuckerberg’s defense here. And you can read an analysis of how Haugen’s testimony is likely to affect Congress’s next move here.

Updated Date: 08 October 2021, 09:29

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