Frances Haugen

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Frances Haugen
Frances Haugen 2021 (cropped).jpg
Haugen in 2021
EducationOlin College of Engineering (BS)
Harvard University (MBA)
Occupation(s)Data engineer, product manager

Frances Haugen (born 1983 or 1984[1]) is an American data engineer and scientist, product manager, and whistleblower.[2] She disclosed tens of thousands of Facebook's internal documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and The Wall Street Journal in 2021.

Early life and education[edit]

Haugen was raised in Iowa City, Iowa, where she attended Horn Elementary and Northwest Junior High School, and graduated from Iowa City West High School in 2002.[3][4][5] Her father was a doctor, and her mother became an Episcopalian priest after an academic career.[6][7]

Haugen studied electrical and computer engineering in the founding class at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering[8][3] and graduated in 2006.[9] She later earned a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 2011.[10][1][11]


In 2006, after graduating from college, Haugen was hired by Google, and worked on Google Ads, Google Book Search, a class action litigation settlement related to Google publishing book content, as well as Google+.[8] At Google, Haugen co-authored a patent for a method of adjusting the ranking of search results.[12] During her career at Google, she completed her MBA, which was paid for by Google.[8] While at Google, she was a technical co-founder of the desktop dating app Secret Agent Cupid, precursor to the mobile app Hinge.[13][11][14]

In 2015, she began work as a data product manager at Yelp to improve search using image recognition, and after a year, moved to Pinterest.[7][11]

In 2019, Haugen joined Facebook, because someone close to her was radicalized online and she "felt compelled to take an active role in creating a better, less toxic Facebook".[15] When Facebook recruited her, she expressed interest in a role related to misinformation, and in 2019, she became a product manager in the Facebook civic integrity team.[6] Following the 2020 American election Facebook dissolved its civic integrity team, and Haugen became disillusioned.[16] While at Facebook, she decided it was important to become a whistleblower due to what she has since described as a pattern of Facebook prioritizing profit over public safety,[17] and left her position at Facebook in May 2021.[18] In the spring of 2021, she contacted John Tye, a founder of the nonprofit law firm Whistleblower Aid, for help, and Tye agreed to represent her and to help protect her anonymity.[17] In the late summer of 2021, she began meeting with members of the United States Congress, including Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Marsha Blackburn.[19]

The Facebook Files[edit]

Beginning in September 2021, The Wall Street Journal published The Facebook Files: A Wall Street Journal Investigation, a series of news reports "based on a review of internal Facebook documents, including research reports, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management."[20][18][10] The investigation is a multi-part series, with nine reports including an examination of exemptions for high-profile users, impacts on youth, the impacts of its 2018 algorithm changes, weaknesses in the response to human trafficking and drug cartels, vaccine misinformation, and a later article about Haugen, who gathered the documents that supported the investigative reports.[20] After the articles about Facebook were published, the United States Senate Commerce Committee's Sub-Committee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security scheduled two hearings, beginning with Antigone Davis, the global head of safety for Facebook, on September 30, 2021, and the then-anonymous whistleblower on October 5, 2021.[21]

Haugen disclosed her identity as the whistleblower when she appeared on 60 Minutes on October 3, 2021.[18][10] During the interview, Haugen discussed the Facebook program known as Civic Integrity, which was intended to curb misinformation and other threats to election security.[10] The program was dissolved after the 2020 election, which Haugen said "really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me,"[18] and which she believed contributed to the 2021 United States Capitol attack.[22] Haugen stated: "The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money."[10][18]

Haugen shared documents with members of the U.S. Congress and offices of attorneys general, but not the Federal Trade Commission.[1] Facebook's market capitalization dropped by $6 billion within 24 hours of Haugen's 60 Minutes interview on October 3, 2021, and after the unrelated Facebook outage on October 4, 2021.[23][24] Based on the leaked documents, Kevin Roose, writing for The New York Times, suggested Facebook may be weaker than it appears.[25]

After Haugen publicly disclosed her identity, Pierre Omidyar's philanthropic organization Luminate Group began to provide support to Haugen, including press and government relations in Europe.[26]

Securities and Exchange Commission complaints[edit]

At least eight complaints have been filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by Haugen's attorneys,[18][10] covering topics reported by The Wall Street Journal and including how Facebook handles political misinformation, hate speech, teenage mental health, human trafficking, the promotion of ethnic violence, preferential treatment for certain users, and its communications with investors.[27] In a SEC whistleblower complaint, Haugen alleged Facebook misled investors because they misrepresented the progress they had made in tackling hate, violence and misinformation on the platform.[28][17][10] The documents provided by Haugen to the SEC are also related to Facebook management of election-related misinformation in the United States after the November 2020 election.[29][30]

Haugen's complaint includes internal Facebook documents related to Facebook management of misinformation and hate speech in India.[31][32] The complaint states many users and pages associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) promoted fear-mongering and anti-Muslim narratives with an intent to incite violence.[33] She alleges Facebook is well aware of the incendiary anti-Muslim narratives promoted in India.[34][35] She also said the lack of Hindi and Bengali classifiers meant action on problematic posts was often neglected.[33][36]

Public statements by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are referenced in the SEC complaints filed by Haugen, along with her allegation that Zuckerberg is ultimately responsible due to his control of Facebook.[37] Various public statements by Zuckerberg, including his 2020 testimony before the U.S. Congress, appear to be inconsistent with internal Facebook documents submitted by Haugen.[37] In February 2022, Whistleblower Aid filed two complaints on behalf of Haugen with the SEC, alleging "material misrepresentations and omissions in statements to investors" by Facebook related to its efforts to address climate change misinformation and COVID misinformation, based on internal Facebook documents.[38]

October 5, 2021 U.S. Congress testimony[edit]

Haugen testifying on October 5, 2021

On October 5, 2021, Haugen testified before the United States Senate Commerce Committee's Sub-Committee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security.[39][40][41] A written version of her opening statement to the U.S. Senate subcommittee was published on October 4, 2021.[42] Haugen stated during the hearing, "The company's leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won't make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help."[43][44] Haugen further discussed Myanmar and Ethiopia, stating Facebook is "literally fanning ethnic violence" when engagement-based ranking is deployed without integrity and security systems.[45] Haugen also indicated she is in communication with another U.S. congressional committee about issues related to espionage and disinformation,[46] and a reason she has not shared documents with the Federal Trade Commission is because she believes Facebook systems will "continue to be dangerous even if they're broken up."[47] After the hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal, chair of the Commerce subcommittee, said Haugen "wants to fix Facebook, not burn it to the ground."[48]

After Haugen's testimony, the response from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that day included "Many of the claims don't make any sense. I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted",[49][50] and "We're committed to doing the best work we can, but at some level the right body to assess trade-offs between social equities is our democratically elected Congress."[51] A post-hearing statement from Lena Pietsch, Facebook's director of policy communications, included, "We agree on one thing. It's time to begin to create standard rules for the internet."[52] Senator Blumenthal indicated he wants Zuckerberg to testify before Congress about the documents produced by Haugen, and that the subcommittee may issue a subpoena to Facebook for more records.[53]

State attorneys general actions[edit]

Documents disclosed by Haugen have been shared with state attorneys general offices in California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Nebraska and Tennessee.[54] On October 13, 2021, in response to disclosures made by Haugen to The Wall Street Journal, more than a dozen U.S. state attorneys general sent a letter to Facebook requesting information about the Facebook "XCheck system" that protects high-profile users and Facebook action against COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.[54]

On November 12, 2021, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit against Meta Platforms (formerly known as Facebook) on behalf of investors, alleging repeated false representations by executives, including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, CFO David Wehner, and global affairs and communications executive Nick Clegg, about the safety of the platform, based on documents leaked by Haugen and documents collectively known as "The Facebook Papers".[55] The lawsuit seeks over $100 billion in damages and for the company to implement reforms.[55]

On November 18, 2021, a bipartisan group of state attorneys general announced a consumer protection investigation of Meta based on documents shared by Haugen.[56] The investigation includes a focus on Instagram, how Meta promotes engagement, and possible harms to children and teenagers.[56]

Additional actions[edit]

On October 6, 2021, Haugen's attorney John Tye said the legal team and Haugen are in communication with the Federal Trade Commission, as well as the European Parliament and the French Parliament.[57] The United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the United States House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol have confirmed plans to meet with Haugen.[58]

On October 11, 2021, Facebook's Oversight Board, an external review panel which rules on select content moderation decisions of the company, announced that it would be speaking with Haugen about her experiences with the company and its practices.[59] On October 21, 2021, Haugen met with the U.S. House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee chair David Cicilline and ranking member Ken Buck.[60]

On October 25, 2021, Haugen testified before the Parliament of the United Kingdom.[61] During her testimony, she advocated for government regulation of Facebook, and for Facebook to make changes.[62]

On November 8, 2021, she appeared before the European Parliament in a hearing organized by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection.[63][64] In a nearly three-hour hearing, she urged the Parliament debating the Digital Services Act to mandate social media platforms to operate transparently and not to create loopholes that Big Tech could exploit.[65] Haugen said the DSA has "the potential to be a global gold standard" and an inspiration for other countries on safeguarding democracy on social media.[66] She emphasized how linguistically diverse Europe could force the platforms to take a systemic approach to safety, rather than focus only on content moderation and on major languages.[67]

On May 18, 2022, after the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union had reached a political agreement on the Digital Services Act, Haugen reappeared before the Parliament.[68] She congratulated the EU lawmakers for the result and called for the European Commission and the member states to put a lot of effort into enforcing the DSA, so that it will not be "a dead letter".[69]

In December 2021, Little, Brown & Company announced a book deal with Haugen for her memoir.[70]

In June 2022, Politico reported that Haugen plans to establish a non-profit organization called "Beyond the Screen" to enhance awareness of the harms of social media.[71] The new organization will focus on litigation and investor-based strategies in order to provide legal and economic incentives for mitigating harms.[71]

In October 2022, Haugen joined the Council for Responsible Social Media project launched by Issue One to address the negative mental, civic, and public health impacts of social media in the United States co-chaired by former House Democratic Caucus Leader Dick Gephardt and former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey.[72][73]

Personal life[edit]

In 2011, Haugen was diagnosed with celiac disease, and in 2014 while going through a divorce from her then husband[16] she had to be hospitalized in intensive care. In 2021, Haugen told The Guardian she was motivated to focus her work at Facebook on addressing misinformation because of her experience with losing a friend, who had been hired to help with household tasks during her recovery, after the friend visited online forums and became a proponent of conspiratorial beliefs that included white nationalism and the occult.[6] After leaving Facebook, Haugen relocated to Puerto Rico, and has invested in a cryptocurrency company.[16]

Haugen has Norwegian ancestry and was awarded an America-Norway Heritage Award from the Norway-America Association in 2022 for her work as a whistleblower.[74]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]