Shares of Facebook ended the day down nearly 5% at $326.23, as investors reacted to Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s claims that Facebook repeatedly opted to not police hate speech nor misinformation.
Adding to investors’ concerns about the company, Facebook suddenly went offline Monday, preventing people from accessing their pages for an extended period.
In a statement on twitter the company wrote, “We’re aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products. We’re working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”
The outages effected WhatsApp and Instagram, as well.
Haugen, who was a product manager on Facebook’s “civic misinformation” team since 2019, she filed eight complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission against the company in April of 2021. On Sunday, she sat down in an interview for 60 minutes, to voice her concerns.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over was that there were conflicts of interest between what’s good for the public and what’s good for Facebook,” Haugen said.
“Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interest.”
Algorithm ‘Promoting Hate’
Haugen alleged that Facebook’s internal documents show that the platform amplified “hate speech” and “misinformation.”
One of the reasons for this, she explained, is Facebook’s algorithm that determines which content is suggested to users in their news feeds. The algorithm’s primary metric is “user engagement,” or how much users click, react, or comment on the posts.
The problem, Haugen explained, is Facebook found that “hateful, divisive and polarizing” gets the most reactions from users.
That means that Facebook’s algorithm inadvertently promoted polarizing content to its audience.
“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they'll click on less ads, they'll make less money,” says Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. https://t.co/wbxxfgorNE pic.twitter.com/zpQIwcdatr
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 3, 2021
“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money,” she claimed.
Facebook’s Special Settings For The 2020 Election
The company did make changes to the algorithm, but only ahead of the 2020 election.
“As soon as the election was over, they turned them back off, or they changed the settings to what they were before,” Haugen claims.
Haugen claims this was done to “prioritize growth over safety.”
The changes were purportedly meant to tackle “misinformation” that could endanger the 2020 election. This includes posts by former President Donald Trump questioning the integrity of the election.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed her identity for the first time on @60minutes, saying the company knows its algorithms raised the profile of divisive political speech.
She plans to testify to Congress that the company lies about how it handles misinformation. pic.twitter.com/YvCa743DHB
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) October 4, 2021
Facebook fired back against those claims, pointing out the fact that the company employs 40,000 people “working on safety and security,” as well as $13 billion in spending since 2016.
Instagram Damaging Mental Health
Haugen’s accusations regarding Facebook’s Instagram platform — combined with a recent Wall Street Journal expose — may ultimately prove to be the most damning for the company.
Facebook’s internal research allegedly showed that Instagram had a negative impact on the mental health of its teenage users.
Between Free Speech And Censorship
Facebook has found itself in the middle of the controversy over free speech on the internet, failing to satisfy either side of the argument.
The company is increasingly under fire from those that think that it is are not doing enough to police content on its site. Others believe that Facebook should not censor its users, no matter what their opinions are.