Frances Haugen did not set out to be a whistleblower, but when it became a question of saving lives, she knew it was time to tell the truth. On top of her concerns about mental health and hate speech, finding out that the Facebook platform was being used by human traffickers in Ethiopia tipped the balance. In Australia, Facebook’s reputation has taken a battering, as other whistleblowers have revealed that Facebook deliberately wreaked havoc by taking down the pages of hospitals and emergency services in their tussle with the Australian government. With almost half the people in the world using Meta’s platforms, and leadership of the company vigorously denying her accusation that it values profits over people, Frances Haugen wants to show us Facebook from the inside, so we can see what it really values.
Born in Iowa City, Iowa, Frances Haugen is the daughter of two professors and grew up attending the Iowa caucuses with her parents, instilling a strong sense of pride in democracy and responsibility for civic participation. Haugen holds a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Olin College and an MBA from Harvard. She is a specialist in algorithmic product management, having worked on ranking algorithms at Google, Pinterest, Yelp and Facebook. She was recruited to Facebook to be the lead Product Manager on the Civic Misinformation team, which dealt with issues related to democracy and misinformation, and later also worked on counter-espionage. During her time at Facebook, Haugen became increasingly alarmed by the choices the company makes prioritising their own profits over public safety and putting people’s lives at risk. As a last resort and at great personal risk, Frances made the courageous decision to blow the whistle on Facebook. Haugen fundamentally believes that the problems we are facing today with social media are solvable. We can have social media that brings out the best in humanity.
Hamish Macdonald is a broadcast journalist and news presenter. He is the host of The Project on Friday nights, and The Sunday Project on Network Ten. He previously hosted Q+A on ABC TV from 2020 to 2021. Hamish regularly hosts RN Breakfast for the ABC, and reports for Foreign Correspondent.
Hamish has won a Walkley award for current affairs journalism and was named Young Journalist of the Year by Britain’s Royal Television Society in 2008. In 2016 he was awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University; he now sits on the Walkley’s Judging Board.