Saturday, June 3

Stained or unfair? Facebook employees are divided over criticism of whistleblower Frances Haugen | Facebook

When Facebook’s former product manager Frances Haugen testified before the Senate last Tuesday, she painted a nasty picture of the social media company.

As a member of the company’s civic disinformation team for nearly two years until his departure in May, Haugen shared insights the company had previously hidden, from Facebook’s willingness to spread hateful content on its platforms to keep users engaged with research showing the harmful effects of Instagram on teens. girls’ mental health, and thousands of pages of internal documents were leaked to support their claims.

“What I saw on Facebook over and over again was that there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, time and time again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money, ”Haugen said in an appearance on 60 Minutes.

Lawmakers, in a rare display of bipartisanship, applauded Haugen for portraying himself as a “whistleblower” who identified foul play. But within the notoriously insular company, employee perceptions of Haugen appear to be divided.

Facebook is known for its strong confidentiality agreements and its history of retaliating against workers who speak up. Even as the company faced heavy condemnation in the past, even after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the public outreach of internal criticism has been muted.

However, Facebook employees have become more vocal internally in recent years. Last summer, employees spoke out against Zuckerberg’s handling of Donald Trump’s Facebook posts. Zuckerberg defended his decision to allow Trump to continue using the platform citing free speech arguments, but many saw it as a public demonstration of valuing Facebook’s commitment (Trump’s posts draw eyes to the platform) above ethics.

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Responding to Haugen’s testimony, according to the New York Times, the company’s communications department issued a memo reminding employees to remain silent, regardless of their views on Haugen and his disclosures.

“We hear more and more about reporters’ requests for employees to talk about Frances Haugen and people’s feelings about her,” Andrea Saul, director of policy communications, said in the memo. “We have had employees specifically ask if they can defend the company by referring to the experiences they had with it. PLEASE DO NOT PARTICIPATE in these conversations. “

Few employees have been willing to break those NDA agreements to speak officially. Those who have done so prominently have echoed some of the sentiments Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed in a lengthy internal memo last week seen by The Guardian. “It’s hard to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives. At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false image of the company being painted, ”Zuckerberg wrote.

Some of the employees who spoke publicly said Haugen did not acknowledge the steps the company is already taking to make its products more ethical. in a series of tweets Posted Friday, David Gillis, director of product design at Facebook, said he has supported some of Facebook’s teams working on integrity and security issues, and Haugen’s testimony did not acknowledge the progress that has been made.

“Frances didn’t work on things like this and maybe she was already starting to leave FB at that point,” she wrote. “My point is that our teams have a history of making commodity changes that prioritize impact on integrity over engagement, of which I am proud.”

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In the thread, he cited a series of updates teams have made to Facebook, such as a feature that reminds users to read articles before sharing; If you try to share an article you haven’t opened, Facebook now displays a message encouraging you to read it for fear of “missing key data” before distributing it to your network.

Gillis added: “I think for past and present people who have worked in integrity here, * there is * a sense that we face headwinds, asymmetries and structural barriers to move our work forward; that there is a higher bar that our teams often need to overcome to make an impact. “

At Blind, a popular app where employees can talk anonymously with their employers, others have offered similar opinions.

“Facebook has better moderation than any other social platform by a mile,” an employee posted in a thread about Haugen’s testimony. Another employee argued that all companies prioritize profits without the scrutiny Facebook has received of late.

Some seemed to downplay the revelations and the original material Haugen collected to back it up. A Facebook employee wrote that the leaked documents on adolescent mental health are not incriminating, and in her testimony, Haugen “simply expressed her personal opinion,” although Haugen had disclosed the findings of three years of research studies, which show adverse effects in many adolescents. . Still, the post has dozens of “likes.”

But speaking anonymously to reporters, other employees have offered a harsher assessment of the company. Haugen’s testimony was spot on, an employee told the New York Times: Haugen was a “hero”. Another applauded her for “saying things that many people here have been saying for years.”

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