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Haugen’s version: “Zuckerberg can’t keep making mistakes”

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Lisbon. The first public appearance of Frances Haugen, the former Facebook manager who passed tens of thousands of internal documents from the social network to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), was greeted with thunderous applause. But it was easy to predict that at the Web Summit, the most important European fair dedicated to startups, he would find an audience in tune with his ideas. The people crammed into Lisbon’s Altice Arena during the opening ceremony were there for her. And they hailed her as a Web star, a contemporary David who challenged Goliath.

“Such notoriety is obviously difficult to manage, but I’m glad I got to this point,” she says herself. “There is always a threshold in each of us beyond which we cannot go. All of a sudden I understood how things were and I also realized that I could not continue ”.

Thirty-seven-year-old Iowa City native with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree from Harvard, Haugen showed no hesitation as she rattled off her truth about the alarming state of the world‘s largest social network. From 2018 to May 2021 he worked for Mark Zuckerberg in the group that dealt with investigating the phenomenon of disinformation, the “civic misinformation team”. The emails and documents she collected from September 13 first became a WSJ investigation called Facebook Files, then renamed Facebook Papers when the former manager expanded the audience of newspapers with which he spoke. Finally, those papers arrived on the table of the US Congress and on that of the British parliament.

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“One of the most important aspects of the documents I have made public is the demonstration that Facebook’s engagement system to capture and keep users’ attention is capable of doing very serious damage. The worrying thing is that the people inside Facebook who, like me, realized that things were going badly but could not change anything because they reported to the same top managers who were responsible for the algorithms ”.

The most serious accusation concerns Facebook’s awareness of its inability to put a stop to the spread of hoax news and divisive content. The multinational knew but despite this it would not have done much to stem the phenomenon by dedicating just 13 percent of its resources to moderation outside the borders of the United States. And this also means that the data provided in February by Mike Schroepfer, the person at Facebook who decides everything in terms of present and future technologies, are incompatible with what has emerged. He argued that the new algorithms put in place since 2019 to stop online hatred, codenamed Xlm-r, would have an effectiveness of 97, blocking flare-ups capable of splitting a country in the bud. From India to Ethiopia, up to Myanmar, when it is not English, the effectiveness seems to be decidedly lower or non-existent, at least according to Frances Haugen. And it is a problem that also concerns Italy.

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“I believe humanity deserved to know the situation. Facebook wasn’t the first company I worked for but it’s definitely the worst. I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg is a bad person. Indeed, I am convinced that her dream of connecting people is genuine. But this does not mean that his continuing to make mistakes is permissible. Changing your name to Meta won’t help and I’m worried about what such a company will do in this new form of the Web called a metaverse ”.

In the meantime, she has moved to Puerto Rico, which has become the refuge of many millionaires who have amassed fortunes thanks to Bitcoin. The former Facebook manager also invested in cryptocurrencies, “when it was a good time to do it,” as she explains. She is supported by the Whistleblower Aid organization. We will see how much will remain on the crest of the wave, but in the meantime it has already passed into the increasingly troubled history of social networks.

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