NLP statement on Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen

We applaud Frances Haugen’s courageous stand in making public internal Facebook documents that describe major concerns with content on the platform and how the company operates. This includes algorithms that push enragement over engagement, the effects of posts on teenage girls’ mental health, use by drug cartels in human trafficking and different standards of use for celebrities and elites.

It’s clear that Facebook has placed profits over the public good, and that must change. Misinformation about the results of the last presidential election and COVID-19 vaccines – among many other issues – is disempowering and discourages the public’s desire and ability to participate fully in our democratic system.

Rather than take steps to punish or silence Ms. Haugen, we hope that Facebook will use this as an opportunity to be more transparent and open about its knowledge concerning the harm caused by its platforms. We call on Facebook (and all social media platforms, including YouTube) to:

  • Provide access to legitimate researchers who are investigating the impact of misinformation on the platforms and be more transparent about the data they’re collecting from users and how it’s used,
  • Actively enforce their own current terms of service and rules that could help stop the spread of misinformation,
  • Make it easier for the general public to report misinformation, particularly medical misinformation, that has the potential to seriously injure people,
  • Block search results to prevent algorithms from promoting disinformation and harmful antivaccination claims,
  • Provide fact-checking tools directly on the platforms to help people verify information,
  • Prevent links from websites and domains whose accounts the platforms already have banned,
  • Develop more automated actions (such as filtering for hate speech, posting content creation dates, stopping users from sharing posts they haven’t read or aren’t familiar with) that could reduce hate and misinformation and help users feel more secure.

Engagement through enragement is a cynical business strategy that disinforms users, diminishes the primacy of facts, divides the public and endangers our democracy. Facebook can and should do better, beginning with being open and more transparent with the public.

(Note: The News Literacy Project received funding from the Facebook Journalism Project in 2017, and the work was completed in 2019. NLP has received no other funding from Facebook.)