Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen was “shocked” when she learned that the company was planning to hire 10,000 engineers in Europe to work on the “metaverse”, a version of the Internet based on virtual and augmented reality, while her money would be better spent on security, she told UK lawmakers on Monday.
“I was shocked to learn that Facebook wants to overtake the Metaverse and that they are going to hire 10,000 engineers in Europe to work on the Metaverse,” she said. “Because I was like, ‘Wow, do you know what we could have done with security if we had 10,000 more engineers? It would have been incredible.
Haugen, 37, former product manager of Facebook’s civic disinformation team, testified before a joint committee discussing an online safety bill to regulate social media. His testimony will inform the committee’s work in developing the bill, which is due to go to Parliament for approval next year.
The bill would hold social media companies accountable for harmful content shared on their platforms, which would lead to significant fines in the UK if they do not remove content such as child sexual abuse and terrorist content.
“There is a vision within the company that security is a cost center, it is not a growth center, which I think is very short term, as Facebook’s own research has Shown that when people have worse experiences with integrity on the site, they are less likely to retain, ”Haugen said.
Drew Pusateri, a spokesperson, said Facebook has invested heavily in efforts to improve its platform.
“This review doesn’t make sense at first glance given that almost all of the documents deal with the details of the work people have done to better understand how to meet our challenges,” Pusateri said in an email.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg pushed back against ideas that Facebook would prioritize growth over security.
“We care deeply about issues such as safety, well-being and mental health,” he said. on Facebook this month after Haugen’s testimony before US lawmakers. “If we wanted to ignore research, why would we create a cutting edge research program to understand these important issues in the first place? ”
Facebook told NBC News that it has spent $ 13 billion since 2016 to fight bad content and that it employs 40,000 people to work on safety and security.
A consortium of 17 media outlets, including NBC News, released dozens of reports on Monday based on tens of thousands of pages of leaked internal documents obtained by Haugen, which included disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress as redacted. through its legal counsel.
Haugen attributed many of Facebook’s failures to effectively control its platform to the company’s “culture of positivity”.
“There is a philosophy that people focus on the good,” she said. “And that’s not always a bad thing, but the problem is, when it’s so intense that it discourages people from getting into difficult issues, then it becomes dangerous.”
She said that Silicon Valley-based Facebook employees are likely to watch their own Facebook news feeds and see “a nice place where people are nice to each other” and they don’t see them. damage to society elsewhere in the world, like Ethiopia, where leaked documents show the platform is being used to spread hate speech and incite violence without adequate moderation of content in several local languages.
While researchers from Facebook’s integrity teams may be keenly aware of the damage the platform amplifies, the information doesn’t necessarily reach executives, Haugen said.
“The good news is coming, but not the bad,” she said. “Executives see all the good they generate, and they can deduct the bad as well as the costs for doing all the good. “
She said employee voices who point out the damage and call for mitigation strategies “aren’t amplified internally because they slow down the growth of the business a bit, and it’s a growth-winning business.” .
Damian Collins, chairman of the joint committee, said in a statement ahead of the hearing: “The evidence from Frances Haugen has so far strengthened the case for an independent regulator with the power to audit and inspect large tech companies. There needs to be more transparency about the decisions companies like Facebook make when trading user safety for user engagement. “
During his appearance on Capitol Hill on October 5, Haugen called on lawmakers to demand more transparency from Facebook.
“I believe Facebook’s products harm children, fuel division, weaken our democracy and more,” she told the Senate Trade Subcommittee on Consumer Protection.