Frances Haugen, the former Facebook engineer who has caused the company’s biggest reputational crisis (now called Meta) by unveiling company practices that affect the stability of countries and people, opened the Web Summit on Monday night , the great technological event that is held in Lisbon until Thursday 4. Something must indicate the fact that for the first time the inaugural button was pressed by a woman who has dared to denounce one of the giants of Silicon Valley and who returned to present before the auditorium of the Altice Arena the complaints that it has made before US and British congressmen in recent weeks about the internal mechanisms of the company that favor hate speech and relationships of digital dependency.
“There is a pattern of behavior that affects our security,” he said during his speech. “Facebook constantly chooses to expand into new areas rather than limiting itself to what it already does. Instead of investing in making the platform more secure, invest in hiring videogame engineers ”, he reproached, referring to the new virtual world, the metaverse, launched by Mark Zuckerberg so that users can transfer a good part of their real activities, such as studying, to it. work, shop or communicate.
The problem, he pointed out, “is not people or bad ideas. The problem is who does Facebook give the megaphone to? Extremist content is the one with the largest audience ”. The solution lies, in his opinion, in preventing the algorithms from deciding what people should see on the social network. Haugen accused the company of misrepresenting the real problem by trying to limit the debate on network reform to a “bogus” choice between censorship and free speech.
Accompanied on stage by Libby Liu, the head of Whistleblower Aid, a charity that provides legal support to people who report wrongdoing, Haugen explained that she was not afraid of the step she had taken against Facebook and that she had been guided by a sentence of his mother: “Every human being deserves the dignity of the truth.” She wasn’t harsh on Zuckerberg: “He’s not a bad person to make mistakes, but it’s unacceptable if he continues to make mistakes after he knows.” But she also did not hide that she is in favor of leaving her post at Facebook: “The board of directors can change the CEO.” “It is difficult for the company to change as long as he remains CEO. I hope he realizes that he can do other things in the world … I think Facebook would be stronger with someone concerned about security, “he added.
In her responses to journalist Laurie Segall, founder of Dot Dot Dot Media, Haugen explained that she dislikes being the center of attention and that she had not planned to reveal her identity. At first his documents were revealed in The Wall Street Journal sin identifying where he came from, but finally he is glad to have exposed everything he observed and discovered during his work at the company. “I was very scared before I left Facebook, but after I left I stopped having it. I think there are thousands of lives at stake and nothing is as serious as that, “he said.
The engineer took with her thousands of internal Facebook documents that demonstrate that algorithms work in ways that promote discord and that the network is designed to stimulate consumption and dependence. In the United States, the news that those responsible were aware that Instagram, their social network of photos, was toxic for the mental health of many adolescents.
Before Haugen went through the same stage Ayo Tommeti, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, already considered one of the most relevant movements in US history, who claimed how innovation has served to expand her ideas of justice and democracy . “We have the opportunity to use technology to accelerate the achievement of our goals.”
With this edition, the Web Summit has recovered its face-to-face format, suspended during the previous edition due to the pandemic. The virtual event organized in 2020 did not leave the organization with neither a good taste nor good figures. One of the great summits on the digital world has proven firsthand that the success, and the economic benefit, of this event requires real interaction. “We lost a large amount of money, it was catastrophic without a doubt,” he said in an interview with the weekly Express the leader and co-founder of the Web Summit, the Irishman Paddy Cosgrave.
Some 40,000 visitors and the participation of 1,250 startups and 700 investors from the technology industry are expected at this event. The speakers will include executives from Facebook, Amazon, Apple or Microsoft and, among other topics, several sessions will be devoted to sustainable development and cryptocurrencies.
The Web Summit began to be held in Lisbon in 2016, after leaving Dublin, where it was born. The move, apart from other reasons, helped that the Portuguese Government at that time gave 3.9 million to be held in the Portuguese capital, compared to the 700,000 that the Irish executive had given it. In 2018, a kind of international bid was opened to attract the technological appointment to other cities such as Madrid, Valencia or London, but the sum of efforts between several Portuguese institutions (Government, Lisbon City Council and Secretary of State for Tourism) managed to retain it in Lisbon in exchange for 110 million euros until 2028 (11 million per year). Cosgrave, however, is negotiating to hold events in the coming years in other countries such as Brazil, although in his opinion they do not violate the agreement with the Portuguese institutions.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.