At the Wired Next Fest Frances Haugen's challenge to the secrets of Facebook

At the Wired Next Fest Frances Haugen's challenge to the secrets of Facebook

Frances Haugen became famous in 2021, when she helped, as a whistleblower, to reveal some of Meta's most explosive secrets: according to her revelations, the executives of the platform were aware of the deleterious effects of Facebook on the mental health of adolescents, of her role in spreading disinformation in the medical field, and the influence of the algorithm on the political instability of many countries. The information released by Haugen sparked investigations known as the Facebook Files, a series of articles first published in the Wall Street Journal, and in the following weeks, by numerous other media outlets.

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the investigations arising from Haugen's revelations probably represented the hardest blow to Meta's reputation. Documents disclosed include internal reports, online discussions between employees, draft presentations prepared by management. “The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture so far of how much Facebook's problems are known within the company, even by the CEO himself,” reads the introduction to the investigation by the Wall Street Journal.

Facebook's existential crisis While Mark Zuckerberg dreams of the metaverse of the future, we have evidence of all the problems he caused our world in the recent past The Facebook beginnings Frances Haugen has worked in Meta since 2019 as a manager of product, precisely in the context of combating disinformation. You have also been involved in counterintelligence. Raised in Iowa, Haugen is the daughter of two teachers who are committed to the civic and political life of their community. She is thanks to them, she says, that from an early age she has been exposed to "a strong sense of pride in democracy and responsibility for civic participation". Haugen has a bachelor's degree in electrical and computer engineering, and a masters of business administration from Harvard. Before joining Facebook, she worked for Pinterest, Google and Yelp. After just two years at Facebook, Haugen left the company, taking with him those hundreds of documents that would become the basis for the Facebook Files.

Haugen, in a luga interview with Steven Levy of US, defines himself as an o utsider with respect to the dominant culture of Silicon Valley. In addition to studying engineering, she also took many courses in the humanities, participated in debate clubs in high school, and taught in college. Although she loved her job, her career path was slightly different from that of the people around her. In her own words, the breadth of her interests helped her to "define herself as a person".

For a former employee, against fake news and hatred Facebook does not do what it promises The revelations on Facebook Having witnessing the real damage caused by the misinformation on the platform, Haugen began to understand how many human lives were actually at stake. She thus came to the decision to leave the company in 2021 - also due to some health problems that she was facing at the time - and to publicly expose the documents. After the Facebook Files scoop, Haugen testified before the European Parliament, the United States Congress and many other national parliaments, becoming a thorn in the side for Mark Zuckerberg and Meta executives. Zuckerberg, of course, responded to the allegations by saying that the disclosed documents had been misinterpreted and that user safety was the first and most important of his concerns.

Thanks to Haugen we now know that Meta was aware of the deleterious effects of Instagram on the mental health of users, especially younger girls. We know that Facebook has failed to prevent the presence of drug cartels and human traffickers on the platform. We know it has been a vehicle for dangerous false information about the pandemic and Covid-19 vaccines. Facebook's services also served to spread religious hatred and support violent instances in many countries, including India and Ethiopia.

Despite the gravity of his accusations, and the personal risk to which expounded, Frances Haugen remains optimistic about the fate of Silicon Valley and the future of social media. She is convinced that the problems we encounter today on the platforms are solvable, and that the key is political awareness and collective action by citizens. Haugen will be a guest at the Milan edition of the Next Fest, to be held at the Fabbrica del Vapore on 7 and 8 October 2022, with a wide schedule of interviews, talks, workshops and music.

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