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A hot potato: While Facebook (or Meta, as it’s now known) might have thought 2018, the year of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, would forever remain its worst-ever 12 months, 2021 has taken that unwanted title—and it’s not over yet. The company is now facing accusations that it tried to smear the name of its former employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen among Washington politicians.
Haugen leaked internal documents earlier this year that showed Facebook knows just how harmful its social media platforms are to society, including the determinantal effects Instagram can have on teenage girls’ mental health.
Haugen also revealed that alterations to Facebook’s algorithms turned off some safeguards designed to fight the spread of misinformation and may have contributed to the Capitol riots. She also said that the company ranks different countries in order of importance when it comes to content moderation. The fallout led to Facebook temporarily suspending plans for its Instagram for Kids app and Congress summoning executives to multiple hearings.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook’s Washington-based lobbyists and public relations staff went on the offensive against Haugen following her appearance on CBS’ 60 Minutes show. The team allegedly warned Democrats that Republicans would use Haugen’s leaks to slam the company’s decision to ban posts supporting Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, which it has since reversed.
Republicans, meanwhile, were told that Haugen was a Democratic activist who wanted to boost President Biden’s administration. Her PR firm being run by former President Obama staffers was put forward as evidence of this claim.
Members of both parties who spoke to the paper said the calls were an attempt to prevent lawmakers from uniting against Facebook/Meta. But Haugen was invited to testify in front of Congress, leading to a bipartisan group of lawmakers working on stricter regulations for social media companies.
Additionally, the Journal writes that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has told staff not to apologize for Facebook’s research, which it calls “mischaracterized.” Instagram's head of public policy, Karina Newton, wrote that the damning reports focus "on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light."
Earlier this month, a survey saw Facebook/Meta voted the worst company of 2021 by a large margin, taking 50% more votes than second-place Alibaba in a result that surprised absolutely nobody.