I have to admit, Frances Haugen has played this beautifully. Like many so-called whistleblowers (not all), she picked an ideal moment to betray her previous employer, in this case Facebook, leak proprietary documents, turn herself into an instant media star, guarantee books deals, speaking tours and TV stardom, and be praised to the skies by gullible, grandstanding and cynical politicians.
“I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” the former Facebook product manager said before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday. Perfect. I wonder if her media advisor helped her draft it.
Here is all you need to know about Haugan: According to her own website, Haugen was a member of Facebook’s internal Civic Integrity team in 2020. That means she was part of the team that made the decision to ban the Hunter Biden laptop story by the New York Post from Facebook in October 2020. Facebook, and its evil twin Twitter, refused to allow circulation of the story, accepting without evidence the defensive Democratic talking point that the laptop was a plant was tied to Russian intelligence. Those claims were disinformation, we now know, and the laptop really did belong to Hunter Biden. Facebook’s partisan embargo on the truth might have determined the election. Is blocking a story that might defeat Joe Biden what the whistleblower considers avoiding division and protecting democracy?
It’s a rebuttable presumption. I don’t trust Haugan, her motives, or her message.
Reading various summaries of her testimony, I was unable to detect any “bombshells”, though Senator Blumenthal, D-Conn, who led the hearing, intoned of the leaked Facebook documents, “This research is the definition of a bombshell.” (To be fair, the Senator advanced his career by falsely representing himself as a Vietnam combat veteran, so his knowledge of bombshells is limited. )Indeed, there was nothing surprising in her testimony at all. Obviously most Senators don’t use Facebook, though some have 20-something staff running pages for them. I use Facebook, though less and less. I’ve seen how it encourages sensational, often hysterical, posts and the mob-mind that follows. Its filters allow users to make certain that they only read what they want to read, and that their own inaccurate posts are never flagged by people like, well, me. I know Facebook’s algorithms are biased and incompetent: Ethics Alarms was blocked from Facebook for more than two years, because I wrote an ethical defense of Fred Astaire’s use of blackface to honor Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.” You don’t need a whistleblower when what she’s blowing the whistle about has been in the open for years.
The Times writes, in one of its many stories about yesterday’s “bombshells,” “Ms. Haugen has presented damning evidence that Facebook knew more about the harms it was causing than it let on publicly.” Define “harms,” please. One of Haugen’s claims is that Facebook helped launch the January 6 Capitol riot. I’m pretty sure that Facebook and other social media helped launch George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests and riots too, but I bet we won’t hear Facebook criticized for that. When Iran had a pro-democracy uprising sparked by Twitter, the platform was hailed as a boon to freedom. Haugen apparently thought letting the public know that Hunter Biden was using his father as a tool while he was neck-deep in corruption would cause “harm.”
What a surprise! A major corporation seeks profit rather than to advance the “public interest,” whatever that is. No, I don’t trust the judgment of people like Haugen to decide what’s in my interest or the public’s, particularly when it comes to speech and information. Facebook exists to make money by allowing people to exchange information. Haugan, appears to be under the delusion that corporations must guide us to Truth (as she sees it) and The Greater Good. Gee, I wonder who she voted for?
One of the emotional moments in the hearing was when Blumenthal read a letter from a constituent:
“I’m in tears right now watching your interaction with Frances Haugen. My 15-year-old daughter loved her body at 14. Was on Instagram constantly and maybe posting too much. Suddenly she started hating her body and her body dysmorphia, now anorexia, and was in deep, deep trouble before we found treatment. I fear she will never be the same.”
This was part of the “bombshell” revelation that Instagram, which Facebook owns, promotes an obsession with appearances that might cause teens to be ashamed of their bodies. Facebook had research showing this and did nothing about it! Like what, closing down Instagram, which would then be replaced by another company’s version of instagram? And who needed research to figure out that a social media platform dedicated to enabling narcissism by teens and alleged adults sucked into the selfie-addiction by celebrities like Ellen DeGeneris would cause girls to have an unhealthy obsession with their weight and appearance? Oh, morons…and elected officials who weren’t paying attention, and lazy parents who didn’t check what their children were doing online. “Maybe posting too much“??
Haugan suggested that laws be passed to limit social media use to those 17 and older. You know, like porn site limits that work so well.
As I said at the start, she’s played this perfectly. Haugan is even a cookie-cutter attarctive blonde: she could be a talking head on Fox News. She knows Democrats want to constrain and control information, having adopted George Orwell as their mentor. Hilariously, pandemic and vaccine “disinformation” was a major focus of the hearing. When the CDC contradicts the WHO, is that “disinformation”? When the CDC is contradicted by Dr. Fauci, is that disinformation?
Republicans, meanwhile, hate social media platforms in general, being, as a group, about a daces behind Democrats in technological savvy, who are themselves about ten years behind the average 9-year-old. Haugan is being cheered as forging a bi-partisan alliance in Congress…to encourage people like Frances Haugen to decide what we can write and read online. Freedom of speech, bah! We have to stop the harms! Why, it’s like cutting down the laws to stop the Devil! Wait, that reminds me…
Well played, Frances. Well played.