Haugen claimed Facebook turned off ‘safeguards’ designed to stop the proliferation of misinformation and rabble-rousing after Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.
That saw political content given a lower priority on users’ news feeds in the run-up to the poll – only for executives to reverse course on realizing the change was turning users off.
Haugen, who is due to testify in Congress Tuesday about Facebook’s alleged impact on its younger users, also claimed that decision directly-contributed to the violence at the US Capitol.
‘As soon as the election was over they turned them back off, or they changed the settings back to what they were before to prioritize growth over safety. And that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me,’ Haugen stated.
Haugen, whose leaks formed The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Facebook Files’ series, also said that Facebook’s algorithms – mathematical formulae that help decide which information is most visible on users’ feeds – favored hateful content.
She claimed that a 2018 change prioritizing divisive posts which made Facebook users argue was found to boost user engagement.
That in turn helped bosses sell more online adverts that have seen the social media giant’s value creep close to $1 billion.
Haugen said: ‘You are forcing us to take positions that we don’t like, that we know are bad for society. We know if we don’t take those positions, we won’t win in the marketplace of social media,’ she said.
The executive, who worked at Google and Pinterest before joining Facebook in 2019, said the scales fell from her eyes after the firm dissolved a unit on civic integrity she’d been working in after the 2020 election.
She explained: ‘I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.’
‘The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,’ Haugen added.
‘There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.’
After realizing she could no longer trust her company to protect the public, Haugen secretly copied tens of thousands of Facebook internal research which she claims is evidence that ‘the company is lying to the public about making significant progress against hate, violence and misinformation.’
‘We have evidence from a variety of sources that hate speech, divisive political speech and misinformation on Facebook and the family of apps are affecting societies around the world,’ the complaint reads.
Haugen claimed that Facebook’s ‘evidence of harm’ extended to its Instagram app, commenting on a study that showed teen girls said the social network site worsened thoughts of suicide and eating disorders.
‘What’s super tragic is Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this — this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more,’ Haugen explained.
‘And so, they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more. Facebook’s own research says it is not just the Instagram is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers, it’s that it is distinctly worse than other forms of social media.’
‘No one at Facebook is malevolent,’ Haugen said. Mark Zuckerberg ‘has never set out to make a hateful platform,’ she added.
However, she says that they have decided the balance sheet is more important than ethics.
Haugen said the social network proved it could make a positive change when it altered content policies for several weeks surrounding the 2020 election, by deprioritizing political content in its Newsfeed algorithm.
But she claims that the company swiftly reverted to its old models when it realized that engagement in adverts had plummeted.
‘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, and [Facebook] will make less money,’ Haugen said.
Haugen’s lawyers filed at least eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission outlining her findings and comparing them with the company’s public statements.
The SEC did not confirm to 60 Minutes if they plan to take action against Facebook. DailyMail.com has also reached out to the organization for comment.
Facebook, however, did released a statement in response to the allegations: ‘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 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.’
Facebook head of global affairs Nick Clegg, appearing on CNN Sunday morning, also called the allegations that the social media giant is responsible for the Capitol riot ‘ludicrous.’
‘The responsibility for the violence on January the 6th and the insurrection on that day lies squarely with the people who inflicted the violence and those who encouraged them, including then-President Trump and candidly many other people in the media who were encouraging the assertion that the election was stolen,’ he said.
Meanwhile, a congressional panel will hear Haugen’s testimony on Tuesday.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is a member of the panel, told the Washington Post that the SEC should take Haugen’s allegations that Facebook may have mislead investors ‘very seriously’.
‘Facebook certainly misled and deceived the public, and so their investors may well have been deceived as well,’ Blumenthal said.
Lawmakers will also investigate if Facebook’s products are harmful to children and whether or not the social media company undermined its safety efforts by disbanding its civic integrity team, as Haugen has alleged.
The social media giant confirmed that Antigone Davis, its global head of safety, would also testify before the Senate Commerce Committee Consumer protection panel.
Haugen’s allegations have caused a headache for Facebook in recent weeks.
Some of the secrets contained in the trove of tens of thousands of pages of internal company documents she copied were previously leaked to the Wall Street Journal for a series of reports dubbed the ‘Facebook Files‘, including damning revelations the company knew its platform Instagram is toxic to young girls’ body image.
With more damaging allegations headed for the company Sunday, Clegg warned employees: ‘We will continue to face scrutiny.’
According to Clegg’s email, the whistleblower will accuse her former employer of relaxing its emergency ‘break glass’ measures put in place in the lead-up to the election ‘too soon.’
Haugen claimed this played a role in enabling rioters in their quest to storm the Capitol on January 6 in a riot that left five dead.
The relaxation of safeguards including limits on live video allowed prospective rioters to gather on the platform and use it to plot the insurrection.
Clegg pushed back at this suggestion, insisting that the so-called ‘break glass’ safeguards were only rolled back when the data showed they were able to do so.
The email, from the company’s Vice President of Policy and Global Affairs Nick Clegg (above), attempted to prepare staff for the allegations and launched into a lengthy defense of the company
Some such measures were kept in place until February, he wrote, and some are now permanent features.
‘We only rolled back these emergency measures – based on careful data-driven analysis – when we saw a return to more normal conditions,’ Clegg wrote.
‘We left some of them on for a longer period of time through February this year and others, like not recommending civic, political or new Groups, we have decided to retain permanently.’
Clegg listed several safeguards which have been put in place in recent years and reeled off a list of success stories of handling misinformation around the election and shutting down groups focused on overturning the results.
‘In 2020 alone, we removed more than 5 billion fake accounts — identifying almost all of them before anyone flagged them to us,’ he wrote.
‘And, from March to Election Day, we removed more than 265,000 pieces of Facebook and Instagram content in the US for violating our voter interference policies.’
Clegg admitted such policies were not ideal and resulted in many people and posts were impacted by this heavy-handed approach.
But, he said, an ‘extreme step’ was necessary because ‘these weren’t normal circumstances.’
‘It’s like shutting down an entire town’s roads and highways in response to a temporary threat that may be lurking somewhere in a particular neighborhood,’ he said.
‘We wouldn’t take this kind of crude, catch-all measure in normal circumstances, but these weren’t normal circumstances.’
He wrote that the company had removed millions of pages and groups from hate groups and dangerous organizations such as the Proud Boys, QAnon conspiracy theorists and content pushing #StopTheSteal election fraud claims.
The email also pushed back at an accusation that Facebook benefits from the divisiveness created on its platform.
‘We do not profit from polarization, in fact, just the opposite,’ he wrote.
‘We do not allow dangerous organizations, including militarized social movements or violence-inducing conspiracy networks, to organize on our platforms.’
The VP called any suggestion the blame for the Capitol riot lies with Big Tech ‘so misleading’ and said the blame should be on the rioters themselves and the people who incited them.
‘The suggestion that is sometimes made that the violent insurrection on January 6 would not have occurred if it was not for social media is so misleading,’ he wrote.
‘To be clear, the responsibility for those events rests squarely with the perpetrators of the violence, and those in politics and elsewhere who actively encouraged them.’
The lengthy email to staff ended by urging the workforce to ‘hold our heads up high’ and ‘be proud’ of their work.