Frances Haugen is a former Facebook employee who revealed herself as the whistleblower who provided private research documents to The Wall Street Journal for its Facebook Files project. Haugen was a product manager at Facebook until May 2021 and has worked for several major tech and social media companies during her 15-year career. Haugen revealed her identity during an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, October 3, 2021.
The 37-year-old Haugen wrote on her website that in 2019 she, “was recruited to Facebook to be the lead Product Manager on the Civic Misinformation team which dealt with issues related to democracy, misinformation and she later also worked on counter-espionage.” Haugen added, “During her time at Facebook, Frances became increasingly alarmed by the choices the company makes prioritizing their own profits over public safety — putting people’s lives at risk. As a last resort and at great personal risk, Frances made the courageous act to blow the whistle on Facebook.”
Haugen wrote on her website, “Frances fundamentally believes that the problems we are facing today with social media are solvable. We can have social media that brings out the best in humanity.” She told “60 Minutes,” “The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was 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.”
The Wall Street Journal says the Facebook Files project, “Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands. That is the central finding of a Wall Street Journal series, based on a review of internal Facebook documents, including research reports, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management.”
The newspaper, which began publishing articles based on the leaked research files in September, added, “Time and again, the documents show, Facebook’s researchers have identified the platform’s ill effects. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its own pledges and numerous media exposés, the company didn’t fix them. The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the chief executive himself.”
Facebook issued a written response to Haugen’s interview with “60 Minutes,” but its vice president of policy and global affairs, Nick Clegg, sent a memo to staff calling her statements and accusations misleading, and saying, “Social media has had a big impact on society in recent years, and Facebook is often a place where much of this debate plays out. But what evidence there is simply does not support the idea that Facebook, or social media more generally, is the primary cause of polarization,” according to The New York Times.
In its written response, Facebook told “60 Minutes,” “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.”
Here’s what you need to know about Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen:
1. Frances Haugen Told ’60 Minutes’ ‘the Version of Facebook That Exists Today Is Tearing Our Societies Apart & Causing Ethnic Violence Around the World’
Haugen told “60 Minutes” during her October 3, 2021, interview, ” I’ve seen a bunch of social networks and it was substantially worse at Facebook than anything I’d seen before. Imagine you know what’s going on inside of Facebook and you know no one on the outside knows. I knew what my future looked like if I continued to stay inside of Facebook, which is person after person after person has tackled this inside of Facebook and ground themselves to the ground.”
According to CBS News, Haugen “secretly copied tens of thousands of pages of Facebook internal research. She says evidence shows that the company is lying to the public about making significant progress against hate, violence and misinformation.”
Haugen added, “When we live in an information environment that is full of angry, hateful, polarizing content it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other, the version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.”
She told “60 Minutes,” “Facebook has demonstrated they cannot act independently Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety. It is subsidizing, it is paying for its profits with our safety. I’m hoping that this will have had a big enough impact on the world that they get the fortitude and the motivation to actually go put those regulations into place. That’s my hope.”
2. Haugen Is an Iowa Native Who Attended the Olin College of Engineering & Harvard Business School
Haugen was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa, as the daughter of two professors, according to her website. She said on the website she, “grew up attending the Iowa caucuses with her parents, instilling a strong sense of pride in democracy and responsibility for civic participation.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Haugen was on the debate team at Iowa City West High School. She graduated from the school in 2002. Haugen then attended the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts, graduating in 2006 with a degree in electrical engineering, according to her LinkedIn. While at Olin, Haugen was a teaching assistant and was the founder and co-editor of the Olin College Yearbook, according to her LinkedIn.
After graduating from Olin College, Haugen attended Harvard Business School, graduating in 2011 with an MBA in general management. On her website, Haugen says, “Frances Haugen is an advocate for public oversight of social media. We can have social media we enjoy that brings out the best in humanity.”
3. Haugen, Who Was One of the First People to Use Google, Worked as a Product Manager at That Tech Giant & at Yelp & Pinterest
Haugen’s first job out of college was at Google as an associate product manager. She said on LinkedIn she worked on Google Books and Google AdWords. SHe later worked as a product manager at Google from 2008 to 2009, designing Google’s first mobile book reading experience/application and discovering and developing a book search algorithm and a system for creating covers for 300,000 public domain books. According to her LinkedIn she :
Launched Google Books’ first API and guided/worked with multiple integration partners around the world. In two weeks was able to convince enough library catalog providers to integrate that we touched over half the library catalog views in the world. Designed and launched Google Books’ first social iGoogle gadget. Primary point of contact for identifying and analyzing mass-downloaders of books using logs data.
Product managed the Adwords Report Center, a tool providing performance data to advertisers on their campaigns. Launched Radio and TV ads reporting in addition to reporting for multiple other new ad types. Launched new metrics to help advertisers better understand what fraction of their potential online advertising opportunity they were reaching to help encourage additional advertising spend.
She left Google briefly in 2011 and later returned to be a software engineer and product manager, working on the company’s Knowledge Graph from 2012 to 2014. She was then a product manager at Yelp from 2015 to 2016, founding its photo quality team. Before moving to Facebook in 2019, Haugen worked at Pinterest as a product manager from 2016 to 2018.
Wired wrote in 2015 that Haugen was “part of the first wave of people to use Google back in 1996. Her mother, a faculty member at the University of Iowa, showed her the search engine, which was still a research project at Stanford University. Haugen was blown away at what Larry Page and Sergey Brin had built. ‘The idea that you could actually peer into a giant mountain of data was amazing,’ she says. Haugen has been obsessed with search technology ever since.”
4. Haugen Was Also a Co-Founder & CTO at the Dating App Hinge
During her career in the tech world, Haugen also was a co-founder of the dating app company Hinge, according to her LinkedIn profile. She was the technical co-founder for the company in February 2011 and worked as its chief technical officer until August 2011. She also said she co-founded Secret Agent Cupid in 2010, which was a precursor to Hinge.
Haugen has also been a Black Rock Ranger at the Burning Man festival since August 2015, according to her LinkedIn profile. While in college, she volunteered as an assistant debate coach at Needham High School in Massachusetts. She wrote on LinkedIn she, “Taught communications and life skills to high schoolers. Provided background in history and philosophy and helped students develop arguments and responses to opponents’ positions. Edited students’ cases.”
On her AngelList page, Haugen wrote, “I’ve designed and launched multiple products at Google with large multi-functional teams. I excel at finding patterns in large ambiguous datasets and translating them into intuitive resonant user features. I am patient and persistent and I believe empathy is a key trait in almost all jobs.”
On Twitter, Haugen wrote, “I believe that we can do better. Together we can create social media that brings out the best in us. We solve problems together – we don’t solve them alone.” Jeff Horwitz, the lead reporter on The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files series, tweeted, “Meet @franceshaugen_, who I’ve been calling ‘Sean’ for the past ten months. She’s smart, gutsy and very knowledgeable about Facebook. She’s also the key source for the WSJ’s Facebook Files project. Frances will be speaking for herself from here on out.”
5. Frances Haugen Will Be Testifying Before a Senate Committee & Has Filed 8 Complaints Against Facebook With the Securities & Exchange Commission
Haugen will be testifying before Congress on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. She will be speaking before the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, which has been looking into Facebook and grilled its executives during a hearing on September 30. During the hearing, Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis told senators the social media company would not retaliate against the then-unnamed whistleblower for disclosures to Congress.
According to her “60 Minutes” interview, Haugen and her attorneys have filed at least eight complaints to the SEC about Facebook since September. The complaints compare the internal research documents and statements made in public by the company publicly, including those by founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Haugen’s attorney, John Tye, of the Washington legal group “Whistleblower Aid,” told “60 Minutes,” “As a publicly-traded company, Facebook is required to not lie to its investors or even withhold material information. So, the SEC regularly brings enforcement actions, alleging that companies like Facebook and others are making material misstatements and omissions that affect investors adversely.”
Tye added, “The Dodd-Frank Act, passed over ten years ago at this point, created an Office of the Whistleblower inside the SEC. And one of the provisions of that law says that no company can prohibit its employees from communicating with the SEC and sharing internal corporate documents with the SEC.”
Another attorney for Haugen, Andrew Bakaj, also of “Whistleblower Aid,” told The Washington Post, “She’s a perfect example of why whistleblowers are so important: without her, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. It’s important because Big Tech is at an inflection point. It touches every aspect of our lives — whether it’s individuals personally or democratic institutions globally. With such far reaching consequences, transparency is critical to oversight, and lawful whistleblowing is a critical component of oversight and holding companies accountable.”