How Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen became the company’s worst nightmare

Monday’s release of the “Facebook Papers” at media outlets throughout the world is the latest in a series of public relations embarrassments for the social media giant—and likely presages another round of congressional inquiries.

At the heart of it all is Frances Haugen, who worked as a product manager at the company until she decided to turn whistleblower. The 37-year-old Iowa City native joined Facebook in 2019, staying until this May, when she left with thousands of pages of internal documents and research.

Just who is Haugen, though? Here’s what she’s revealed of herself so far.

Who is Frances Haugen?

Haugen, on her website, describes herself as “an advocate for public oversight of social media.” She’s the daughter of two professors who grew up attending the Iowa caucuses with her parents and who holds a degree in electrical and computer engineering from Olin College and a MBA from Harvard.

What did Frances Haugen do at Facebook?

In 2019, Facebook recruited Haugen to join as a product manager on a 200-person team that was responsible for protecting against election interference. Among the areas the team explored were how Facebook could be used by bad agents to spread lies, incite violence, and disrupt democracy.

Why did Frances Haugen become the Facebook whistleblower?

Haugen says she “became increasingly alarmed by the choices the company makes prioritizing their own profits over public safety and putting people’s lives at risk.” She told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation she saw the company consistently choose profits over safety.

“During my time at Facebook, I came to realize a devastating truth: Almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook,” she said in her opening statements. “The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the U.S. government, and from governments around the world…I came forward because I believe that every human being deserves the dignity of the truth.”

Facebook, in a 1,300-word response to Haugen’s accusations, said her testimony “just doesn’t reflect the company we know. We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being, and mental health.”

Where else has Frances Haugen worked?

Before her time at Facebook, Haugen worked as a project manager at Pinterest, Yelp, and Google, according to her LinkedIn page.

What did Frances Haugen take from Facebook?

Over several months, Haugen supplied thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of pages of internal research and documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission under whistleblower protections. Federal officials, though not the Federal Trade Commission, have been examining those. Some of the documents have also been distributed to the state attorneys general for California, Vermont, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Nebraska. And Haugen has spoken to lawmakers in France and Britain, as well as a member of European Parliament. Next month she will attend Web Summit, a technology conference in Lisbon, and head to Brussels to meet with European policymakers.

Many of those papers have also been released to a consortium of American news organizations and a separate group of European news outlets. Those documents, though, were redacted versions of what Haugen gave the SEC, with the names of Facebook users and low-level employees blacked out.

Additional news stories from the “Facebook Papers” project are expected to be released in the coming days and weeks as more papers are released.

Does Frances Haugen hate Facebook?

She says she doesn’t. She told the Senate, “I believe in the potential of Facebook.” And on her website, Haugen notes that she “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.”

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