Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is “cautiously optimistic” that Elon Musk’s $44 billion deal to take Twitter private at $54.20 per share could lead to positive change for democracy and safety on the social media platform.
Haugen made headlines last year after accusing her former employer of prioritizing profits over user safety in press interviews and testimony to Congress and sharing thousands of internal Facebook documents on topics ranging from Instagram’s impact on teens to hate speech and misinformation on its platforms.
“I’ve maintained since my first testimony that I think a lot of the problems that we’re facing on social media are a result of a business model,” Haugen tells FOX Business.
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She argues that Facebook struggles to address its issues because CEO Mark Zuckerberg has “surrounded himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear.”
In comparison, she believes Musk is an independent thinker who can take hard feedback and has a data-driven perspective that could lead to meaningful product safety and design changes.
“I have a feeling that Facebook is going to rationalize to itself that it can’t really do anything different than it already does because of the demands of the market,” Haugen says. “I think there’s a huge opportunity here for Elon to really demonstrate that there’s another way forward.”
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Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist”, has expressed interest in open sourcing Twitter’s algorithm to increase transparency on the platform. Haugen says that opening the up the platform’s algorithm to researchers and academics will ultimately foster more trust in Twitter.
“One of the key parts about a system as critical as Twitter for our democratic processes is whether or not people trust that the system is fair. And right now, I would say that trust in Twitter is a little bit in flux,” Haugen emphasizes. “The number one most important thing [Elon] can do is institute real transparency. Transparency is how he’s going to go to prove that he’s acting in ways that are aligned with the public good and it’s how he’s going to build trust in his ability to run the system.”
Musk has also vowed to crack down on Twitter’s spam bots.
“That kind of action is potentially dangerous when you have a publicly traded company because the number of users you have will go down,” Haugen notes. “That’s a good sign Elon is going to be wanting to do those kinds of structural changes that Twitter may have not been as brave to do when they had to have their hands tied by making sure the number of users they had went up every single quarter.”
Musk’s deal for Twitter is expected to close in 2022, subject to the approval of its stockholders, the receipt of applicable regulatory approvals and the satisfaction of other customary closing conditions.
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Haugen’s comments come as Facebook has shifted its focus on building the metaverse, a computer-generated environment where users will be able to work and interact with one another in virtual reality. She says the metaverse is an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for the problems on Facebook and Instagram.
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“When [Mark Zuckerberg] announced the metaverse, they spent five minutes making empty platitudes about safety by design,” Haugen says.”We should be like, “Hey, publish your safety by design plan.” Don’t tell us, show us, because I think they’re going to reproduce all the challenges they face on Facebook only with a platform that’s more immersive and more decentralized.”
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