Iowa City-born data scientist reveals identity as Facebook whistleblower

Frances Haugen revealed her identity as the Facebook whistleblower on 60 Minutes Sunday night. The data scientist from Iowa City leaked information from Facebook’s internal research data in September that detail how Facebook’s own research shows how the company’s algorithms amplify hate, violence, and misinformation.

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“New York City, USA – August 25, 2013: Close-up view to facebook notifications of friend request and message on a smart phone. Facebook is a social networking service, owned and operated by Facebook, Inc.”

Josie Fischels, Managing Editor


Frances Haugen, originally from Iowa City, revealed her identity Sunday night as the person who filed whistleblower complaints against Facebook.

On TV news show “60 Minutes”, Haugen spoke about what led her to anonymously file at least eight federal complaints that Facebook has withheld information about the risks its content and algorithms pose.

In September, Haugen leaked information copied from tens of thousands of pages of Facebook’s internal research data to the Wall Street Journal, which detail how Facebook’s own research shows that the company’s algorithms boost posts that contain hate, violence, and misinformation.

Haugen has said Facebook’s algorithms favor hateful content, and alleged that Facebook’s platform helped lead to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The 37-year-old computer scientist attended Horn Elementary School and Iowa City West High School. 

Haugen quit her job as Facebook’s project manager in May and says that in her time with Facebook, she saw many dangerous and unethical practices performed by the company.

“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,” she said during her interview with 60 Minutes. 

Haugen has a degree in computer engineering from an engineering college in Massachusetts and a master’s degree in business from Harvard. Prior to joining Facebook’s team in 2019, she worked with other large online companies Google, Yelp, and Pinterest. 

During her interview, Haugen said she had seen others attempt to expose Facebook’s practices and fail. 

“At some point in 2021, I realized, ‘OK, I’m going to have to do this in a systemic way, and I have to get out enough that no one can question that this is real,” she said. 

To do so, Haugen secretly copied “tens of thousands of pages of Facebook internal research,” which she says present evidence as to how the company lies to the public about its progress against hate, violence, and misinformation. She claims Facebook made the decision to lie to protect their own best interests.

“Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they’ll click on less ads, they’ll make less money,” she said. 

Haugen will testify before Congress this week to argue that regulations be put in place for the company.

In a statement to 60 Minutes, Facebook wrote, “Every day our teams have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place. We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.” 

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