Frances Haugen Says We Need a ‘Free Mark’ Movement

You believe those laws will come?

Will we get the laws we need in the next two years? Very unlikely. But I think we’ll get the laws we need in the next five to 10 years.

Meanwhile, Meta has refocused on the metaverse and generative AI. 

I worry about the rise of those. Do not make fun of virtual reality. Because all the problems people are flagging—the masks are too heavy, the images are pixelated, the batteries don’t last long enough—are going to get solved in five to 10 years. I worry that we’re going to put grandma in a VR headset, or if you have a really disruptive kid in school, instead of having a health aide, you will just digitally sedate them. I think we do need to start having those conversations now. 

Since your whistleblowing, has Meta addressed the problems you exposed?

I’m assuming it is probably worse than it was because Mark [Zuckerberg] fired a lot of people this year. I think things got better for maybe the year after I came out. But once [Twitter CEO] Elon Musk was able to fire his safety teams and not face any consequences, Mark has said publicly that he thought that Elon showed the value of tearing off the Band-Aid. I think a lot of Facebook’s stock market rise in the last six months has been that if you fire your safety teams, your expenses go down. Meanwhile, a lot of my favorite researchers inside the company are not inside the company anymore. And it’s not because they voluntarily left.

I spoke to researchers who wrote some of the documents you exposed, and found it fascinating that they stuck with the company for so long. 

It’s a really brutal choice. If you leave, there’s one less good person who’s working on these issues. You place a really immense psychic burden on people because they know, if they leave, it’s not like the problems are going to go away. It’s just that they won’t be working on them anymore.

Mark Zuckerberg himself is not much of a character in your book, but you do recount a few times when he rejects some initiatives that might have mitigated some misinformation or toxicity on his platform. What are your views on your former boss of bosses?

I feel a great deal of pity for him. He has been the CEO since he was 19 years old, and he’s now 39—that’s half his life. All the other big founders have stepped down. Imagine if someone tells you the thing that you’ve spent half your life on is hurting people. It’s almost an impossible thing to believe. He can’t be objective—he’s surrounded himself with a very limited number of people who have a vested material interest in keeping him right there. 

He’s definitely heard about harm directly—from regulators and litigators, and in his face in legislative hearings.

But look at how he frames things in Congress. He always says things like, “We have an inherent tension between freedom of speech and safety.” He never says, “We could change our algorithms.” There were a huge number of people [inside Facebook] who were developing ways to address these problems, but they require changing the system of management. Facebook has a culture that devalues humans. It’s tragic. Then he goes on podcasts and says things like, “When I get up in the morning and I look at my phone, it feels like I’m getting punched in the stomach.”

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