Facebook is in the spotlight once more after Frances Haugen, a former employee-turned-whistleblower, appeared on 60 Minutes on Sunday to share insider information that she had gleaned from her time at the company. Haugen, who worked as a product manager on Facebook’s civic integrity team for two years, said that Facebook is lying to the public and investors about making good on its promise to get hate, violence, and misinformation under control on the platform, as the company has continually chosen to “prioritize growth over safety.”
Haugen’s intel stems from her own experience as well as thousands of internal documents that she secretly copied before leaving her job. These documents were the basis for the Wall Street Journal’s recent series of reports on Facebook, which found, among other things, that the company has produced internal research showing Instagram is harmful for many teen girls, has responded inadequately to the platform’s role in facilitating human trafficking and drug cartels, and has not been willing to prevent the flourishing of anti-vaccine misinformation in its comment sections.
“I knew what my future looked like if I continued to stay inside of Facebook, which is person after person after person has tackled this inside of Facebook and ground themselves to the ground,” said Haugen.
She is not the only Facebooker to feel this way; one of the internal message board conversations she saved was of employees outraged by how some January 6 Capitol rioters were able to use Facebook to organize the uprising, and a recent New York Times story details how Facebook is struggling to control an internal uproar over the Journal’s report on Instagram and teens. “[C]olleagues … cannot conscience working for a company that does not do more to mitigate the negative effects of its platform,” one employee wrote on an internal message board, according to 60 Minutes.
Okay, so: Why aren’t all of Facebook’s employees just resigning en masse right now?
At this point, anyone who works for Facebook knows what’s up. Haugen’s dirt, although damning in its documentation, is not exactly mind-blowingly new information, especially for its own workforce. They know that the platform is a tool for genocide, hate speech, and misinformation. They know that the company knows, and they know that the company does not give enough of a shit to sacrifice revenue — of which Facebook has more than ever before — to stop it. They know that, ultimately, Facebook is bad for the world in nearly every possible way, and at this point, they are complicit in its operations.
But what if those employees are trying to effect positive change from the inside? one might ask. To that I would say: After all these years, you’d have to be a fucking idiot to still believe in that possibility. And unless I’m mistaken, companies like Facebook do not pride themselves on hiring idiots.
But you can’t just ask these people to give up their jobs, they have bills to pay and mouths to feed, another might protest. Okay, sure, a portion of Facebook’s 60,000 employees might have some pressing economic need, but are you telling me that all of the company’s well-paid engineers, product managers, designers, and communications specialists could not just walk out right now and land an equally well-compensated job at another tech company without too much sweat?
Most companies are bad in one way or another, but most have at least one redeeming quality — maybe they sell toothpaste, which is necessary for dental health, or maybe they recommend music that aligns with your tastes, even if that music’s creators get paid $0.003 per stream. What is Facebook’s redeeming quality? The streamlining of sponsored content from former Bachelor contestants? (Yes.)
At some point, anyone who works for Facebook has to either look within and find some shred of morality that would compel them to resign — and, like Haugen, maybe leak some documents and file complaints against the company to the Securities and Exchange Commission — or else admit that they have no integrity, and be disdained accordingly by their friends and peers.
So, come on, Facebook employees — if you really want to make a difference, all of you should just quit right now. Or if not, then at least unionize.