“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” whistleblower Frances Haugen said while alleging that Facebook regularly employs user anger to make money.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, identified herself on Sunday as the anonymous whistleblower who recently leaked some of the platform’s internal information to Congress and The Wall Street Journal.
Haugen publicly disclosed her identity during a Sunday night airing of “60 Minutes,” where she accused Facebook of driving hate speech to increase engagement on the platform.
“It’s optimizing for content that gets engagement or reaction, but its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is other emotions,” she told CBS’ Scott Pelley.
“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, [the platform will] make less money.”
Haugen first turned over thousands of internal Facebook documents to federal law enforcement earlier this year. In the past month, the documents have spurred a Congressional hearing over the hold Facebook has on minors, as well as how its platforms are affecting their mental health. In one highly notable move, Facebook also indefinitely suspended its plan to release an “Instagram for Kids,” though the company claims it will resume the project at some point in the future.
Facebook and Hate Speech
One document released by Haugen shows Facebook’s own researchers estimating that the platform may take action on as little as 3 to 5% of hate, along with only 0.6% of violence and incitement “despite being the best in the world at it.”
“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” she said.
In the “60 Minutes” piece, which runs for over 13 minutes, voiceovers from Pelley suggest that Haugen believes Facebook should be held responsible for the 2018 Myanmar genocide that was incited by the country’s military on Facebook.
Pelley also cites the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Haugen suggests that Facebook needs to be held accountable for that event as it cut back on anti-violence and hate speech policies following the 2020 Elections.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” she said. “And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”
“I’ve seen a bunch of social networks and it was substantially worse at Facebook than anything I’d seen before.”
Haugen is set to testify before the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security on Tuesday. There, she hopes to convince Congress to impose federal regulations on how social media companies monitor hate speech.
That might not take too much convincing. Committee Chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) has already called the documents she leaked a “bombshell,’ and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are in agreement that some form of action must be taken.
Facebook Denies Claims
Since The Wall Street Journal first released internal slides focusing on Instagram’s effects on teens last month, Facebook has played down the research now made public.
In fact, on Thursday, it even suggested that the company itself “may [have] sensationaliz[ed] the negative impact on the graph.”
The release of Haugen’s interview was no different. On Saturday, Executive Nick Clegg dismissed allegations that Facebook should be held responsible for the Jan 6. insurrection amid rumors the “60 Minutes” piece would include such accusations.
Evidence “does not support the idea that Facebook, or social media more generally, is the primary cause of polarization,” he added.
Following the release of the interview, Facebook spokesperson Lena Pietsch said, “Every day, our teams have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place.”
“We’ve made important improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content, know about it, and do nothing is just not true.”
NFL Reaches Agreement to End Race-Norming, New Testing Formula Remains Unclear
The practice, which was adopted by the league in the ’90s, assumes that Black players operate with a lower cognitive function than players of other races.
NFL Ends Race-Norming
The U.S. District Court of Philadelphia uploaded a confidential proposed settlement between the NFL and former players on Wednesday that confirms the league’s plans to abolish race norming.
The NFL previously halted the use of race-norming in June as part of a$1 billion settlement with retirees Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, but details of the deal weren’t supposed to be released until it underwent review from a federal judge.
In fact, it currently seems as if someone in the court accidentally uploaded the document, as it was deleted hours later.
Among the details reaped from the settlement, it was revealed that the league plans to modify cognitive tests over the next year as part of a short-term change regarding how it verifies dementia-related brain injury claims. Previously, it used race-norming — the practice of assuming Black players have a lower cognitive function than players of other races — to test whether retirees seeking financial compensation had sustained brain injuries from the sport.
Black retirees who were denied access to compensation originally will also have their tests automatically re-evaluated over the course of the next year, if the settlement pushes through.
The NFL has additionally agreed to develop a long-term replacement system with the help of experts and players’ lawyers.
Still, the exact formula behind these new testing metrics, which will be designed as race-neutral per the agreement, is unknown. For example, retirees don’t know how the new changes will affect their scores or if they might potentially need to take additional tests before becoming eligible for compensation.
The Issue With Race-Norming
Race-norming was first adopted by the league back in the ’90s, and in theory, it was meant to help offer better treatment to Black retirees who had developed dementia from brain injuries related to football.
Essentially, the thought process was to take socioeconomic factors into account since Black people come from disadvantaged communities at higher rates; however, that quickly became a major issue since Black players were held to a higher standard of proof than players of other races.
For example, since the tests assumed Black people have less cognitive skill, Black retirees seeking claims needed to score lower to be granted compensation. That then led to many having their claims denied because they tested too high — even if they would have tested within the range to receive compensation had they been white.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The Washington Post) (ABC News)
Facebook Plans Name Change as Part of Rebrand
News of the alleged rebrand came the same day Facebook was fined nearly $70 million for breaching U.K. orders related to the company’s 2020 acquisition of Giphy, as well as the same day it reached a $14 million discrimination settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.
Facebook Allegedly Plans To Debut New Name
Facebook, Inc. is planning to announce a new company name next week, according to a Tuesday report from The Verge.
The rebrand would reportedly align with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision to shape the company into a full-fledged “metaverse” — AKA a virtual reality space where users can interact with one another in real-time.
The new name is currently unknown, but it would likely not affect the social media platform Facebook. Instead, the change would target its parent company, Facebook, Inc. — similar to how Alphabet became the parent company of Google following a 2015 restructure.
On Monday, Facebook said it is currently planning to hire 10,000 people in the European Union to help make its metaverse goal a reality.
Still, plans for the metaverse have not gone uncriticized, especially given the recent weeks of increased scrutiny regarding Facebook’s dominance over people’s daily lives. “Metaverse” was first coined in 1992 by American author Neal Stephenson in his novel “Snow Crash,” which depicts a corporate-owned virtual world.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey even cited one user who referenced the novel, agreeing that Stephenson was right in his prediction of “a dystopian corporate dictatorship.”
Facebook To Pay Fine and Settlement
Also on Tuesday, regulators in the United Kingdom fined Facebook nearly $70 million for breaching orders related to its 2020 acquisition of Giphy.
While that’s only a fraction of the $400 million it paid to purchase Giphy, UK regulators warned that they could eventually order Facebook to sell off Giphy if they find proof the acquisition has damaged competition.
In the U.S., the Justice Department said the same day that Facebook has agreed to pay up to $14.25 million to settle discrimination allegations brought by the agency under the Trump administration.
In December, the department accused the company of favoring foreign workers with temporary work visas over what it described as thousands of qualified U.S. workers.
“Facebook is not above the law and must comply with our nation’s federal civil rights laws, which prohibit discriminatory recruitment and hiring practices,” Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general at the department, said.
Notably, this settlement is the largest ever collected by the department’s Civil Rights Division.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Engadget) (The New York Times)
SEC Releases Long-Awaited Report on January Memestock Frenzy, Pokes Hole in “Short Squeeze” Narrative
Among other findings, the SEC said hedge funds weren’t broadly damaged by January’s unprecedented trading event.
SEC Publishes Findings
The Securities and Exchange Commission released a long-awaited, 44-page report on Monday detailing its findings regarding this year’s “Memestock Frenzy,” which involved companies such as GameStop and AMC.
During the frenzy in late January, the share prices of those companies soared exponentially. According to one of the key narratives of the situation, smaller investors piled onto GameStop as a way to directly attack hedge funds that were actively betting against GameStop’s success and future. As CNBC reported at the time, those “hedge funds and other players had to rush in to cover their bets against the stock.”
What followed were reports that hedge funds had lost billions of dollars all at once. In fact, one notable hedge fund, Melvin Capital, received what many described as a nearly $3 billion bailout. Meanwhile, in June, it was reported that the London-based White Square Capital had shut down its main fund due to the losses it suffered in January.
However, now, the SEC has said there is no real evidence to support some of the key pillars of this narrative, including that hedge funds were substantially hurt in the long run.
“Staff believes that hedge funds broadly were not significantly affected by investments in GME and other meme stocks,” the agency said in its report. “Staff did not observe that any advisers to private funds and registered funds experienced liquidity issues or difficulties with counterparties.”
On the whole, hedge funds even saw a 1.2% increase in profits in January, according to data from the HFRI Fund Weighted Composite index.
The agency also noted that GameStop purchases to cover bets were just “a small fraction of overall buy volume,” adding that “GME share prices continued to be high after the direct effects of covering short positions would have waned.”
“The underlying motivation of such buy volume cannot be determined,” the agency concluded. “Perhaps it was motivated by the desire to maintain a short squeeze. Whether driven by [that] desire… or by belief in the fundamentals of GameStop, it was the positive sentiment, not the buying-to-cover, that sustained the weeks-long price appreciation of GameStop stock.”
SEC Not Currently Issuing Any Recommendation
The agency did not offer any policy recommendations with this report, though it did stress that a number of small-time investors who either initially bet against GameStop’s success or tried to ride the wave of gains saw significant losses.
Given that the number of investors trading GameStop rapidly jumped from 10,000 at the beginning of January to 900,000 by the end of the month, it’s not surprising that the FTC confirmed heavy losses for many.
With that in mind, the SEC aligned its next focus on commission-free trading apps and the way in which they promote potentially excessive trading. Notably, that includes apps such as Robinhood and Webull, both of which faced controversy during the frenzy for severely restricting users’ ability to trade so-called memestocks.
“Consideration should be given to whether game-like features and celebratory animations that are likely intended to create positive feedback from trading lead investors to trade more than they would otherwise,” the SEC said in its report.
SEC Chair Gary Gensler said Tuesday that by April, the agency could propose rules limiting how those apps make money from each trade, which is known as “payment for order flow.”