FOCUS: Whistle blower Francis Haugen reveals Facebook purposefully promotes problematic content for profit


Amelia Tai

Many students at SCHS note problematic aspects that accompany social media.

Facebook, owner of the most popular social media platforms in the world, has recently changed its name to Meta.

In April, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, exposed confidential company documents, showing the many Facebook operations people view as problematic, specifically, its algorithms, which appeared to spread toxic content for profit.

SCHS senior Jessica Nelleigh is active on Instagram, Meta’s most popular platform among teens. Despite most of her targeted content consisting of positive posts, Nelleigh often sees demeaning comments about people’s physical appearance, specifically weight.

“I feel Instagram and body image have a negative relationship,” Nelleigh said. “Especially with Instagram models and the stigma of needing to have a picture-perfect profile.”

Though she tries to avoid hateful content, Nelleigh still encounters it due to Meta’s algorithms.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Haugen revealed, through internal company documents, Facebook was spreading hate posts more than passive ones to gain screen time since hate posts are more intriguing. Peoples Dispatch reported that increased screen time benefited Facebook and its connections with advertising companies, strengthening its ability to “sell” users’ information for targeted advertising.

Additionally, Meta is aware of the negative effects of viewing hateful posts on Instagram. According to an article by National Public Radio, Meta conducted a study on teenage girls. The results showed significant changes in their behavior after using Instagram. Seventeen percent of teen girl participants said their eating disorders had worsened, while 32 percent felt it decreased their self-esteem and contentment with their body image.

When it comes to her online experiences, Nelleigh does her best to be aware of the hidden aspects of Instagram.

“Sometimes the false news/expectations about weight bother me a little bit as I used to struggle with my body image more, but I try my best to ignore it and remember that it is just an online post,” Nelleigh said. “Pictures can be altered, or information can be false.”

Meta has also exploited the opinions of the more patriotic. The Washington Post reported Facebook did not take enough action to prevent the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Regardless of full knowledge on how to restrict the spread of “political polarization, conspiracy theories, and incitements to violence,” executives of Facebook did not take enough action.

Meta displayed similar behavior during the military of Myanmar’s coup and genocide. A New York Times article explains that despite Facebook’s ban of posts that praised the military’s actions, ethnic and religious cleansing, its algorithms continued to spread the dangerous content.

Overall, Meta’s goal is to increase its usage and gather more views on its social media platforms. The revelation by Haugen has sparked anger in many, including those in the SCHS community. Practical arts teacher Brian Van Dyck shared his suspicion of Meta’s true intentions and corrupt methodology.

“I think it’s (social media) the most harmful thing to Western civilization,” Van Dyck said. “I believe they packaged everything with good intentions, packaged to give us a perception that the use of these tools is going to open us up to information and that it’s going to better our lives. It’s going to streamline our lives and build connections when in fact, I believe the entire time this is about mining data.”

According to Van Dyck, Haugen’s exposé was the cause of Facebook’s name change to Meta.

“I believe that they feel they have reached a saturation and popularity that they no longer have to hide their hidden, or dare I say, evil agenda,” Van Dyck said. “Now they’re just calling it what it is. ‘We’re a meta data miner. That’s what we do.’”

Freshman Om Kulkarni has a different approach. He believes that Meta is hoping for positive recognition, a new, clean slate to make a good impression.

“They want to get rid of all that bad rep put against the name Facebook,” Kulkarni said. “They want to rebrand themselves, which is why they put it as Meta.”

Meta claims to have changed their name to better portray their contribution to future technology. They interpret this as the metaverse, a conceptual virtual reality platform for entertainment, connection and more. Unfortunately for them, many have not entertained this declaration.

“The main reason why it’s not taking off – the metaverse concept – is because people are satisfied with their 2-D perspectives, like phones,” Kulkarni said.

No matter the reason for Meta’s name change, some students and staff agree the situation is not what Meta claims it to be. Its attempts at remarketing have fallen short, with its secrets of spreading toxicity exposed.

“I believe, again, they’re trying to sell something with the intention of good or improvement when in fact, it’s about universal control,” Van Dyck said. “Power corrupts absolutely.”