Whistleblower Frances Haugen Still Believes in Silicon Valley

In those posts after Google and before Facebook, did your view of tech companies soured?

I still feel very positive about most of the tech companies in Silicon Valley. I don’t think there is an inherent rot or something like that. I think there is a need for transparency across any power, which platform has a lot of power. Then I think we need a little different relationship with them.

By 2019, Facebook had already been plagued by scandals and very public defections. However, I joined that polluting company.

I was contacted by a recruiter in December 2018. I said the only thing I would work on was civil disinformation. I think we need more people working within Facebook to fix Facebook issues. I highly encourage people to work at Facebook.

clings. Even after finding out all those damn documents, are you urging people to join Facebook?

People are wondering if you can be a person of integrity and work at Facebook. If anything, Facebook is such a consistent enough organization that if a lot of people came in determined to fix it, I think they would really have a positive impact.

However I left.

I did it because I couldn’t stay longer and continue to live in Puerto Rico [where I moved for health reasons]. I still live with severe pain every day, because I was paralyzed under my knee. Even being back in the Bay Area now is really hard for me because it’s cold and wet here, and it really hurts every day I’m here. And so I had to choose between being in a place where I felt most comfortable or working on Facebook.

Wait – if Facebook told you you could work from Puerto Rico, would you still work there? And none of this will happen?

At some point, I had to go. At some point, you have to start the conversation. But I don’t think I would have left at that moment.

So after they said you can’t work from Puerto Rico, you made the important decision to take these documents with you. Why did you feel it was up to you to start this conversation?

I couldn’t believe they could solve their problems on their own. The design fact of any organization is that if you really want change, you have to have a critical mass of people working on a problem. At Facebook I was in a group of seven or eight product managers and program managers. Within six weeks, he had left the entire capsule. Most of them were of civilian integrity in origin. I don’t think I was the only one who felt that Facebook had kind of given up on its mission or not taken it seriously.

I am not someone who turns away from someone in need. I volunteer at Burning Man as a ranger because I believe that people change through help. I don’t think people change out of shame. I knew Facebook had issues before I joined, and I’ve been living with some personal consequences for that because I have an extreme friend. But when I arrived, I only thought of disinformation in the context of the United States. I’ve never thought of it in the context of more fragile places in the world. But even within two weeks of joining, I was like, “Oh my God, this is so much worse than I thought it would be.” So I think at some point in 2020, it dawned on me how many lives are at stake.


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