November 27, 2021

Frances Haugen, a whistleblower with a very structured approach

“I had the impression that, faced with conflicts of interest, between its profits and the protection of users, Facebook repeatedly chose its profits. “ Frances Haugen explained why she became “The Facebook whistleblower” to the American Senate commission which auditioned this Tuesday, October 5. In May, the 37-year-old employee decided to quit the social network by taking thousands of documents from internal forums.

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Mme Haugen is a specialist in “Algorithmic rankings” which are used to prioritize the content on the platforms. After a management degree from Harvard University and computer science studies, she was hired by Google then went through the social networks Pinterest and Yelp, before joining Facebook, in 2019. Motivated by the “Loss of a friend who fell into disinformation”, she joined the “civic integrity” team, responsible for combating “fake news” and hate speech, especially in elections. Mme Haugen says she was then gradually discouraged, due to too limited budgets or her inability to reduce problems in developing countries. Its “drop of water” will have been the dismantling, at the end of 2020, of the “civic integrity” team by Facebook, which says it has distributed its tasks to other services.

Eight complaints filed

Frances Haugen is not the first Facebook employee to quit, nor the first ethics specialist to criticize the business of a digital giant. What sets her apart is the very structured aspect of her approach. She set up a precise media and political sequence: investigations into the Wall Street Journal, interview with the magazine “60 Minutes”, broadcast on the American television channel CBS News, where she reveals herself, hearing before the committee to which she sent her documents …

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It is also very supported by Whistleblower Aid, an NGO specializing in helping whistleblowers, founded by lawyer John Tye, who himself denounced the actions of the US National Security Agency. This association is based on the protected status of whistleblower, created by the Dodd-Frank law of 2010, with a specific office at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It is also with this policeman of the financial markets that she filed eight complaints assuring that Facebook lied to investors. And Whistleblower Aid also incorporates into its strategy the « compensations » that the SEC can grant to whistleblowers for their information, which sometimes runs into the millions of dollars.

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