By:
October 4, 2021

Frances Haugen is her name.

Haugen is the Facebook whistleblower who will testify before Congress this week. She secretly copied tens of thousands of pages of Facebook internal research — research that showed the social media giant amplifies hate and misinformation and political unrest.

Haugen’s identity became public Sunday evening when she was interviewed by “60 Minutes” on CBS and profiled in The Wall Street Journal.

The “60 Minutes” interview, after a series of explosive Wall Street Journal stories based on the documents, paints a disturbing picture of Facebook.

Haugen told “60 Minutes’” Scott Pelley, “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.”

The most glaring, and frightening, example of the damage done was after the 2020 presidential election. Haugen worked in “Civic Integrity,” which worked on risks to elections including misinformation. But only until the election was over.

Haugen told Pelley, “They told us, ‘We’re dissolving Civic Integrity.’ Like, they basically said, ‘Oh good, we made it through the election. There wasn’t riots. We can get rid of Civic Integrity now.’ Fast forward a couple months, we got the insurrection. And when they got rid of Civic Integrity, it was the moment where I was like, ‘I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.’”

Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs, said it’s “ludicrous” to blame the Jan. 6 insurrection on social media. In a wide-ranging interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Clegg told host Brian Stelter, “The responsibility for the violence of Jan. 6 lies squarely with the people who inflicted the violence and those who encouraged them, including President Trump.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Jeff Horwitz published another story just as the “60 Minutes” piece went to air: “The Facebook Whistleblower, Frances Haugen, Says She Wants to Fix the Company, Not Harm It.” It’s just the latest in the Journal’s superb series — “The Facebook Files.” The Journal wrote the documents “​​offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the chief executive himself.”

On “Reliable Sources,” Clegg said, “There is no perfection on social media as much as in any other walk of life. And then what we have to do is address that.”

Among the more revealing insights in The Wall Street Journal’s investigation is teen girls develop negative feelings about themselves when going to Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, and that Facebook knows that Instagram is toxic for teen girls.

Clegg told Stelter, “I don’t think it’s intuitively surprising that if you’re not feeling great about yourself already, then going onto social media can actually make you feel a bit worse.”

Haugen said, “… what’s super tragic is Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this — this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more. And so, they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more. Facebook’s own research says it is not just that Instagram is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers, it’s that it is distinctly worse than other forms of social media.

Clegg told Stelter Facebook is working on tools to help steer teens away from certain types of content.

Clegg added, “We’re never going to be absolutely on top of this 100% of the time, because this is an instantaneous and spontaneous form of communication. There’s a world of difference between doing a peer-reviewed exercise in cooperation with other academics and preparing papers internally to provoke and inform internal discussion.”

Haugen went on to say that she didn’t believe that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg set out to make a hateful platform.

“But,” she told Pelley, “he has allowed choices to be made where the side effects of those choices are that hateful, polarizing content gets more distribution and more reach.”

Haugen said she believes that the federal government should impose regulations and that’s why she is testifying this week.

Haugen said, “Facebook has demonstrated they cannot act independently. Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety. It is subsidizing, it is paying for its profits with our safety. I’m hoping that this will have had a big enough impact on the world that they get the fortitude and the motivation to actually go put those regulations into place. That’s my hope.”

A major investigation

The Washington Post, along with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, is out with a major investigation called “The Pandora Papers.” The Post said the project worked with more than 600 journalists in 117 countries and territories, making it the largest project ever organized by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Post executive editor Sally Buzbee writes that the report includes how “documents — more than 11.9 million records from 14 offshore entities, including law and wealth-management firms — illuminate a hidden world that has allowed government leaders, a monarch, billionaires and criminals to shield their assets.”

She adds, “The Post decided to join this project because we felt certain that the breadth of records obtained by the ICIJ would shine a light on aspects of the international financial system that have operated with little or no oversight.”

The Guardian writes, “They expose the secret offshore affairs of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers and heads of state. They also shine a light on the secret finances of more than 300 other public officials such as government ministers, judges, mayors and military generals in more than 90 countries.”

It’s a remarkable piece of work.

Fox News’ new digs

Fox News’ newly renovated Washington D.C. bureau. (Courtesy: Fox News)

Fox News unveiled a newly-renovated Washington, D.C., bureau last week, including a new newsroom, updated TV studios and a radio studio dedicated to the late Tony Snow.

The unveiling of the renovated bureau was just ahead of the networks’ 25th anniversary, which is Thursday.

Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Corp., told staff, “It’s hard to believe that when I was last here was just before that pandemic and it’s probably 20 months ago. And to see the transformation of this space in barely a year and a half is really inspirational and incredible to see. But it’s important to remember when we look around and we see these expensive screens and beautiful computers and such a stunning newsroom and the bricks and mortar, the physicality of it. But that’s not what the investment is in. It’s not in the carpet, in the chairs and the computers. But the investment is in the Fox News culture and the work environment. And the reason is to give all of you the space and the environment to continue to do your very best work. And that’s why we’re so proud of this space here. It’s also obvious (that) it should be a great statement in how proud and appreciative we are of the work all of you do here day in and day out.”

FOX News Media CEO Suzanne Scott also dedicated the Charles Krauthammer greenroom, named for the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who was a Fox News contributor. He died from cancer in 2018.

Scott told staff during the dedication, “This is also a moment to remember an extraordinary voice and a gentle giant in our business who we continue to miss every day here at FOX News Media. And today, we’re going to do two dedications as faces here in the D.C. bureau. We think it’s appropriate. You can see the painting of Charles Krauthammer and then new, going to be unveiled this afternoon, plaque.”

Don’t press send

Football coach and former ESPN analyst Herm Edwards used to have advice for young athletes: Don’t press send. The point is to be careful what you tweet. A Washington Post reporter could’ve used that advice on Sunday.

On Sunday morning, President Joe Biden attended mass in Wilmington, Delaware, and then walked in the parish cemetery, where his son, Beau, is buried. Annie Linskey, a White House reporter for The Washington Post, tweeted a photo of Biden and wrote, “Biden goes to church and walks through a graveyard in Wilmington as his legislative agenda is dying in Washington.”

Linskey hit send when she shouldn’t have. She was immediately blasted on social media and ultimately deleted the tweet.

She then tweeted, “I deleted an earlier tweet, which was not intended to cause offense.” She followed up by tweeting, “It was a badly conceived and insensitive tweet. I’m sorry.”

Must-read editorial

The New York Times editorial board had a solid editorial over the weekend: “Jan. 6 Was Worse Than We Knew.”

The board pointed to the book, “Peril,” written by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, and how Vice President Mike Pence refused to go along with Donald Trump’s plan to overturn the election.

The Times wrote, “The fact that the scheme to overturn the election was highly unlikely to succeed is cold comfort. Mr. Trump remains the most popular Republican in the country; barring a serious health issue, the odds are good that he will be the party’s nominee for president in 2024. He also remains as incapable of accepting defeat as he has ever been, which means the country faces a renewed risk of electoral subversion by Mr. Trump and his supporters — only next time they will have learned from their mistakes.”

That’s just the beginning of what the Times’ editorial board is getting at in this ominous opinion. They close with, “Mr. Trump may never stop trying to undermine American democracy. Those who value that democracy should never stop using every measure at their disposal to protect it.”

On this topic, be sure to check out this New York Times story by Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman: “The Lawyer Behind the Memo on How Trump Could Stay in Office.”

Pardon the Interruption

This month is the 20th anniversary of ESPN’s groundbreaking show “Pardon the Interruption.” Sports’ version of “Siskel & Ebert,” former Washington Post columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon have hosted a show that pioneered such things as a running clock and a menu of upcoming topics to let viewers know when and what the debate show would be discussing during the half-hour of the daily show. For sports fans, “PTI” has been a must-watch show for two decades, and is still going strong.

“PTI is the gold standard of sports discussion shows and one of the seminal programs in ESPN history,” Norby Williamson — ESPN executive vice president for event and studio production and executive editor — said in a statement.

ESPN’s podcast, “ESPN Daily,” is doing a special four-part series on the show. Part 1, which looked at how the show originated, debuted last Saturday and a new episode will debut each of the next three Saturdays.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC News)

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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