She’s the biggest thorn in Mark Zuckerberg’s side.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen publicly revealed her identity on Sunday, accusing her former employer of pushing divisive content for profit and covering up evidence that the tech giant’s products cause harm.
“Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money,” Haugen said in a bombshell “60 Minutes” interview.
After leaving her job at Facebook in May, 37-year-old Haugen leaked a trove of internal Facebook documents to the Wall Street Journal, which used them to publish a series of damning reports last month. Haugen also sent the documents to lawmakers and filed for whistleblower protection with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
One Journal report, about how Facebook’s own research shows Instagram hurts teen girls, prompted a Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee hearing last week, where Senators slammed Facebook’s safety chief for failing to protect children.
Haugen is set to testify in front of the Senate committee herself on Tuesday, where she will elaborate on the documents and talk about why she believes the government needs to crack down on Facebook, which is already facing a landmark antitrust case from the Federal Trade Commission.
So who is the woman who’s prompted what may be the biggest crisis in Facebook’s 17-year history?
A big tech insider
Originally from Iowa, Haugen graduated with degrees in electrical and computer engineering from the Olin College of Engineering outside Boston in 2006. Her first job out of school was at Google, according to her LinkedIn profile, where she helped design algorithms for Google Books. She also worked on Google+, the company’s ill-fated Facebook competitor.
In 2009, Google paid for Haugen to get a management degree from Harvard Business School. While at Harvard, she co-founded Secret Agent Cupid in 2010, a dating site that eventually became Hinge, according to her LinkedIn.
Haugen then returned to Google in 2011, when was diagnosed with celiac’s disease that left her with severe mobility issues, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In 2014, Haugen left her job at Google. Shortly afterward, she landed in the ICU with a blood clot in her thigh, the Journal reported.
While Haugen was recovering from the clot, she hired a family friend to help her with chores and errands. The friend also got sucked into online white nationalist and occult forums, and their friendship eventually deteriorated.
“It’s one thing to study misinformation, it’s another to lose someone to it,” Haugen told the Journal. “A lot of people who work on these products only see the positive side of things.”
In 2015, Haugen joined Yelp, where she worked on the app’s photo algorithms and launched an integration deal between Yelp and Twitter. The following year, she left Yelp for Pinterest, where she also worked on algorithms, according to her LinkedIn. She left Pinterest in January 2018.
In late 2018, a Facebook recruiter contacted Haugen about a potential job, according to the Journal. She told the company about her experience losing a friend to conspiracy theories and said she wanted to work stopping the spread of misinformation.
Haugen joined Facebook in June 2019, where she reportedly worked on the company’s 200-person “civic integrity” division, according to the Journal. She and four other new hires were tasked with building a system to track misinformation targeted at specific groups of people in just three months.
The project failed due to inadequate resources, Haugen said. She saw that other civic integrity teams were also understaffed, including the groups responsible for tracking slavery, sex trafficking and organ selling, according to the Journal.
She reportedly observed that Facebook resisted adding any safety measures that would reduce the amount of time people spent on the company’s platforms.
“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money,” Haugen said on 60 Minutes.
Shortly after the 2020 US Presidential election, the founder of and head of the civic integrity team, Samidh Chakrabarti, told staff he was taking a leave of absence and that Facebook was dissolving the civic integrity team by moving its staff into other divisions, Haugen told the Journal.
That same day, Haugen allegedly began talking to a Journal reporter through an encrypted messaging app.
In March 2021, Haugen reportedly left her home in California to live in Puerto Rico, where she expected to work for Facebook remotely.
Meanwhile, she read through and copied documents on Facebook’s internal document system, called “Workplace.” Those documents included the studies on misinformation, trafficking and other harmful content that eventually were published by the Journal.
At the same time, Facebook’s human resources department reportedly told Haugen she wasn’t allowed to work from a US territory. In April, she said she would quit the next month, according to the Journal.
Facebook reportedly tracks what material employees access on Workplace, so Haugen was afraid of being caught. But she was reportedly able to gather material up until the moment her access was taken away on her last day.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal of the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee has said that more of the leaked material will be detailed when Haugen testifies on Tuesday.
Haugen did not reply to multiple requests for comment.
Asked for comment on Haugen’s statements and upcoming senate testimony, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone emailed The Post a statement from Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s director of policy communications.
“Our teams have to balance protecting the ability of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place,” said Pietsch. “We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.”
Pietsch also said Facebook has spent $13 billion since 2016 on security and safety since 2016 and currently has 40,000 people working on the issue.
“Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits,” said Pietsch.
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