Mark Zuckerberg “has unilateral control over 3 billion people” because of his unassailable position atop Facebook, whistleblower Frances Haugen told MPs as she called for urgent external regulation to curb company management technology and reduce damage to society.

Haugen, a former Facebook employee who posted tens of thousands of damaging documents about its inner workings, traveled to London from the United States for a parliamentary hearing and gave qualified support to the British government’s proposals to regulate social media platforms and make them take some responsibility for content. on their sites.

The internal culture of the company prioritizes profitability over its impact on the world at large, Haugen said, and “there is no will at the top to make sure these systems work well. sufficiently safe manner “. She added: “Until we provide a balance, these things will be exploited in the interests of shareholders and not in the public interest.”

She warned that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook and used by millions of children around the world, may never be safe for tweens.

Speaking to a group of MPs and peers on Monday, Haugen said much of the responsibility for increasingly polarized global politics lies with social media and the radicalizing impact of services such as Facebook groups. .

These can encourage small and intense communities that spawn conspiracy theories, she said. “I am deeply concerned that they have made a product that can take people away from their real communities and isolate them in these rabbit holes and filter bubbles. What you find is that when people are given the wrong information targeted at a community, it can be difficult to reintegrate into the wider society because now you have no shared facts.

Amid growing concerns about Instagram’s impact on adolescent mental health and body image, Haugen said Facebook’s own research compared young users of the app to drug addicts who feel unable to manage. ‘move away from a service that makes them unhappy.

“The last thing they see at night is someone who is cruel to them. The first thing they see in the morning is a hateful statement and it’s so much worse. She claimed that the company’s own research found Instagram to be more dangerous than other social media such as TikTok and Snapchat because the platform focuses on “social comparison on bodies, on fashion. people’s lives, and that’s what ends up being worse for children. “

She added: “I am deeply concerned that it is not possible to make Instagram safe for a 14 year old and I sincerely doubt that it is possible to make it safe for a 10 year old.”

The whistleblower also urged Facebook to make it harder to share material, in order to slow down the sharing of hate and misinformation, while pushing more content from people’s family and friends into feeds. user news: “Moving to human-scale systems is the safest way to design social media. We loved social media before we had algorithmic feed.

One of his particular concerns is how Facebook can ‘mislead’ the public into believing that it is prioritizing tackling disinformation outside the English-speaking world, while highlighting its impact on divisions. societal issues in Myanmar and Ethiopia. She suggested that tools designed to reduce damage in English publications might be less effective in the UK as they were developed using US English.

Facebook ownership is structured so that Zuckerberg, as the founder of the company, has a special class of shares, which means he single-handedly controls the company. This gives him enormous control over the eponymous social network as well as Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp.

Haugen said the company is full of “good, kind and conscientious people” but they work with the wrong incentives defined by management and the obligation to maximize financial returns to shareholders. “Facebook did not want to accept that even small bursts of profit were sacrificed for security. And that is not acceptable.

She said there was little incentive within the company to pick up on flaws and deal with the side effects of its business model. “Facebook has never sought to prioritize polarizing and decisive content; it was just a side effect of the choices they made.

Speaking on a conference call with investors on Monday, Zuckerberg spoke about the leaked documents but did not address the content directly, saying the issues facing the company “are not primarily about social media “but concern” polarization [that] started moving to the United States before I was born ”.

“My take on what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to create a false image of our business,” he added, as the company reported quarterly profit of 9 billions of dollars.

A Facebook spokesperson said, “At the heart of these stories is a premise that is wrong. Yes, we are a business and we make a profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of the safety or well-being of people misunderstands where our own business interests lie. The truth is, we’ve invested $ 13 billion and have over 40,000 people doing a job: keeping people safe on Facebook. “

Kari Paul contributed reporting


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