Facebook suffered from mass outages around the world on Monday - just hours after an explosive interview with a whistleblower from within the company aired. CBS News' 60 Minutes featured a long segment with former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen on Sunday, where she discussed internal documents and discussed what she believes is a "systemic" flaw in the site. Monday's outage may have given some people even more time on their hands to watch the interview.
Haughen worked in the social media industry for 15 years, and left Facebook in May of 2021 by choice. She took with her thousands of pages of internal research and delivered it to the Securities and Exchange Commission as a whistleblower. CBS News then obtained those documents from a Congressional source, which is how Haughen wound up sitting across from Scott Pelley for her first interview.
To sum up all that she brought to the SEC, Haughen said that the site's algorithm naturally amplifies "angry, polarizing, divisive content," and that Facebook executives know it. One internal study she disclosed stated: "The current set of financial incentives our algorithms create does not appear to be aligned with our mission."
"Facebook's mission is to connect people all around the world," said Haugen. "When you have a system that you know can be hacked with anger, it's easier to provoke people into anger. And publishers are saying, 'Oh, if I do more angry, polarizing, divisive content, I get more money.' Facebook has set up a system of incentives that is pulling people apart."
Haugen explained how this algorithm came to be starting in 2018, and how Facebook judges "what it calls meaningful social interactions" through "engagement-based rankings." She also highlighted how this has impacted content creators themselves, saying that many of them are aware of the issue and have complained to Facebook about it. Facebook declined to send someone to participate in the interview, but responded in a statement from its director of policy communications Lena Pietsch.
"The goal of the Meaningful Social Interactions ranking change is in the name: improve people's experience by prioritizing posts that inspire interactions, particularly conversations, between family and friends -- which research shows is better for people's well-being -- and deprioritizing public content," Pietsch said. "Research also shows that polarization has been growing in the United States for decades, long before platforms like Facebook even existed, and that it is decreasing in other countries where internet and Facebook use has increased. We have our role to play and will continue to make changes consistent with the goal of making people's experience more meaningful, but blaming Facebook ignores the deeper causes of these issues - and the research."
Facebook has weathered many scandals and whistleblowers over the years, and yet it has continued to grow and expand. However, some are already speculating that Haughen's disclosure may be the most damaging to the company's status quo yet. Right now, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Haughen's interview impacted operations at Facebook on Monday, but many conspiracy theorists are speculating due to the widespread outages.
At the time of this writing, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and other apps are suffering from outages all over the world, and there is no word on when they might be fully restored. You can stream Haughen's full interview on YouTube here, or view the whole episode on Paramount+.
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