‘I need to begin a youth motion’

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen plans to go to universities next year and inspire a youth movement.

What exactly do you do after leaked thousands of documents from the world’s most powerful social media company? For Frances Haugen the answer is obvious: start a youth movement.

Facebook was harshly criticized for the whistleblower’s littering of documents, not least because of revelations that the company knew its Instagram photo app had the potential to harm teenagers’ mental health.

Ex-Facebook engineer Haugen believes that young people have more reason than anyone else to pressure social media companies to do better.

“I want to start a youth movement,” she told AFP in a broad interview, adding that teenagers who grew up online shouldn’t feel so “powerless” about the social networks that are tangled in their lives.

Haugen has spent nearly two months in the spotlight over her claims that Facebook has consistently prioritized profits over people’s safety, and supporters and enemies alike are wondering what’s next.

The interview on Friday at a Paris luxury hotel, carefully watched by her lawyer, came at the end of a European tour led by a skilled PR team, with financial support from the philanthropic organization of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Haugen, 37, spoke to lawmakers in London, Brussels and Paris and thousands of cheering people at a tech conference in Lisbon.

Both the UK and the EU are currently debating new technical regulations and she said the tour is an opportunity to “influence where these regulations go”.

Radicalized friend

Iowa-born Haugen knew very well, before joining Facebook, that its pages were capable of sending people down dangerous rabbit holes.

A close friend who radicalized himself in 2016 believed that billionaire George Soros was secretly in control of the economy.

Haugen told AFP that it was her "very shocked" by Facebook's failure to combat harmful side effects of its platform

Haugen told AFP that she was “very shocked” by Facebook’s failure to address harmful side effects of its platform.

“That was very painful,” she said.

Haugen nonetheless worked at Facebook for two years before resigning in May. She said she was immediately “very shocked” by the continued failure to address harmful side effects such as the spiral of hate speech in politically volatile countries like Myanmar.

Despite her attempt to influence legislation in Europe, Haugen’s confidence in regulation is limited – by the time lawmakers agree, the technology will have advanced.

Instead, she wants Facebook to be legally required to implement policies in response to potential harm found by users.

“Facebook has never had to tell us how it fixes damage. They always do the same thing when there is a scandal: They say: ‘We are sorry, this is difficult, we are working on it’, “said Haugen.

If Facebook were forced to release data that showed the extent of the problem – for example, the number of misleading posts with more than 1,000 shares per week – the company could feel pressured to come up with better solutions, she argues.

“Every time you have more sunlight, things get a little cleaner.”

Smart crypto investments

On the same principle, Haugen insists that Facebook should be forced to address the potential dangers of its plans to build a “metaverse”, a virtual reality Internet, that CEO Mark Zuckerberg is so excited about that he renamed its parent company Meta Has.

After all, when people spend all day in a virtual reality world where they have “a better hairstyle, better clothes, a nicer apartment,” Haugen wonders what could that do to people’s mental health?

“I haven’t heard Facebook say how to deal with this damage,” she said. “You are in the process of investing 10,000 engineers on it. Isn’t this a conversation we should have now?”

Despite her attempt to influence legislation in Europe, Haugen's confidence in regulation is limited

Despite her attempt to influence legislation in Europe, Haugen’s confidence in regulation is limited.

Not surprisingly, Facebook’s response to the current scandal has been largely defiance rather than humility.

“Facebook was started by a bunch of Harvard kids who had never done anything wrong in their lives,” she said, suggesting that criticism was not part of the corporate culture.

Her Harvard colleague readily admits that she also enjoys a privileged position: smart cryptocurrency investments she made in 2015 are now funding her life in Puerto Rico.

“There are many ways that this risk is less risky for me than it is for someone who may not have the savings I have,” she said.

Haugen is now planning to visit universities early next year.

At 37, she stressed that her job would simply be to start the youth movement and introduce it as a movement on campus where students could help teenagers deal with internet-related issues their parents may not understand, such as: . B. App addiction.

Its broader role would be to encourage young people to commit both business and lawmakers to a “fair and equitable social network”.

She also plans to work with academics to build a “simulated social network” – a model that would enable budding engineers to conduct experiments before changes are implemented on real platforms where they can cause harm in the real world.

In the meantime, she will be monitoring plans for new technical regulation.

“I’ve spoken to a number of state regulators who have said this disclosure only changed the whole tone of the debate,” she said. “My hope is that it will be different this time.”

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© 2021 AFP

Quote: Facebook whistleblower: “I want to start a youth movement” (2021, November 13), accessed on November 13, 2021 from https://techxplore.com/news/2021-11-facebook-whistleblower-youth-movement.html

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