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Exclusive: FB whistleblower Frances Haugen pushes back re online censorship because she says it doesn't work
Story on the Washington Examiner website here: Facebook whistleblower responds to criticism she's a Trojan horse for censorship
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen said that she is an opponent of censorship via tech companies, rebutting conservative criticism that she is a left-wing operative opposed to free speech.
Haugen said that, contrary to how she has been portrayed, she's opposed to censorship on social media platforms on the grounds that it angers people and does not work. Instead, she said that she is critical of Facebook's use of algorithms to massively boost the distribution of content, which she said has had unintended consequences and has resulted in the company itself distorting public debate.
“I just don't think that censorship works at scale. And it doesn't work, period,” said Haugen, who was behind a recent series of bombshell revelations about Facebook, such as that it knew of its harmful effects on younger users and its use by drug cartels and drug traffickers.
“Facebook wants us to be distracted and argue about censorship because we will never agree on it. But the reality is there's a lot of things that they can do today that don't involve content moderation that could make their product safer,” Haugen said in an exclusive interview with the Washington Examiner.
Haugen said that Facebook could take noncensorship actions, such as changing problematic algorithms and reducing the amplification of all content on the platform, but doesn't, because doing so would hurt usership and profits.
The controversial content for which Facebook has been criticized is primarily spread through the algorithmic amplification of popular content, Haugen said. If Facebook were to intentionally reduce the viral spread of any given post on Facebook, though, the platform would also reduce the amount of user engagement and, therefore, profits.
A former product manager at Facebook who came to the company to help protect against election interference on the platform, Haugen said that tweaking algorithms and reducing viral content on the platform would reduce the pressure that Facebook faces to engage in censorship or pick between good and bad ideas.
“Facebook knows that censorship drives us crazy. There's a bunch of documents in my internal disclosures that are specifically about how pissed off people get when their stuff is taken down,” said Haugen.
“And yet Facebook would rather have us arguing about are we censoring enough or too little, then have to decrease virality a little bit? Or have someone monitor their algorithms for how excessive they are?” she added.
Haugen resigned from Facebook in May of 2021, but before doing so, she dug into and saved copies of multiple internal company documents that exposed an array of problems within the social media company. She gave these to the Wall Street Journal, which used them for its reporting on the company, causing a public relations crisis for Facebook at the end of last year.
Prominent conservatives accused Haugen of being a left-winger agitating for greater censorship of those with right-leaning views and the Republican Party.
"This entire whistleblower process is a Trojan horse to silence conservative voices," Josh Holmes, the former chief of staff to former GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said on his conservative political podcast Ruthless.
Holmes also criticized Senate Republicans for not being more skeptical of Haugen.
"They took this woman as if she was a good-faith actor and allowed her unquestioned, basically, to spread misinformation that is entirely designed to shut off conservative voices in purveying any information in this country,"
Haugen said that she is a registered Democrat but identifies as a libertarian, and she denied that she is pushing the Democratic Party’s agenda.
“I really like 1950s Republicans, right? I really liked the idea that small government is good,” said Haugen.
“I think Republicans can get behind the idea that people can't have freedom or autonomy, if like, the systems of their information are being controlled by a big company that lies to them,” she added.
Haugen said that Facebook has consistently misled its users in regards to the amount of hate speech and misinformation on the platform that could be addressed without censorship by addressing the harmful effects of its algorithms.
Haugan, 37, specializes in algorithmic product management and worked on ranking algorithms at Google, Pinterest, and Yelp before arriving at Facebook. She studied electrical and computer engineering at Olin College and got an MBA from Harvard.
She was recruited to Facebook to be the lead product manager on the civic misinformation team, which dealt with matters related to democracy and misinformation, and later also worked on counterespionage.
Facebook disbanded the civic misinformation team in 2020 after the presidential election, which was a major factor in Haugan's sense that the company was not acting in good faith.