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Whistleblower says Facebook put profit before reining in hate speech

In this January 6, 2020 illustration, a Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration

October 3 (Reuters) – A Facebook Inc (FB.O) Whistleblowers on Sunday accused the social media giant of repeatedly prioritizing winning over combating hate speech and misinformation, and said their attorneys had filed at least eight complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Frances Haugen, who worked as a product manager on the civic disinformation team at Facebook, appeared on the CBS television show “60 Minutes” on Sunday and revealed her identity as the whistleblower who provided the documents leading to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal and a Senate based on hearing that Instagram harms teenage girls.

Facebook came under fire after the Journal published a series of stories based on internal Facebook presentations and emails showing that the social media company contributed to increased polarization on the internet when it changed its content algorithm , took no steps to lessen vaccine hesitation, and was aware that Instagram is damaging the mental health of teenage girls. Continue reading

Haugen will testify to a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday in a hearing titled Protecting Kids Online about the company’s research into the impact of Instagram on young users.

“There was a conflict of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” she said during the interview. “And Facebook has always chosen to optimize for its own interests, such as making more money.”

Haugen, who previously worked at Google and Pinterest, said Facebook lied to the public about the progress it had made in tackling hate speech and misinformation on its platform.

She added that Facebook was used to organize the January 6th Capitol riot after the company shut down security systems following the US presidential election.

While she believed no one was “malicious” on Facebook, she said the company misaligned incentives.

Facebook released a statement denying Haugen’s arguments after the television interview.

“We continue to make significant improvements to combat the spread of misinformation and harmful content,” said Facebook spokeswoman Lena Pietsch. “To say we’re promoting bad content and doing nothing is just not true.”

Before the 60-minute interview, Nick Clegg., Facebook vice president of global affairs said on CNN It is “ridiculous” to claim that January 6th took place because of social media.

INTERNATIONAL TALKS

On Sunday, Haugen’s attorney John Tye, founder of the nonprofit Whistleblower help, a New York Times report confirmed that some of the internal documents were shared with attorneys general from several states, including California, Vermont and Tennessee.

Tye said the complaints were filed with the SEC because Facebook, as a publicly traded company, was required not to lie to its investors or even withhold material information.

The complaints compare Facebook’s internal research with its public statements on the topics it researched, according to the 60-minute interview.

Tye said Haugen has also spoken to lawmakers in Europe and is due to appear before the UK Parliament later this month in hopes of encouraging regulatory action.

He and Haugen are also interested in speaking to lawmakers from countries in Asia, as many of the issues that motivated Haugen were from the region, including ethnic violence in Myanmar, he added.

Whistleblower Aid, who represents Haugen pro bono, has also launched a GoFundMe to raise $ 50,000 for her legal fees.

Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; Editing by Kenneth Li, Aurora Ellis and Richard Pullin

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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