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Facebook knows you’re addicted, and they plan to keep it that way

Whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, testified during a congressional hearing about the site's efforts to keep users hooked.
Illustration of former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifying on Capitol Hill and the Facebook "thumbs up" sign at their headquarters in California.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified during a congressional hearing Tuesday about Facebook's harmful practices.Chelsea Stahl / MSNBC; Getty Images; Reuters

The risks of using Facebook are plentiful and well documented, but the site’s allure is often too great to deny. That’s by design, according to testimony delivered Tuesday by a former product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team. 

The whistleblower, Frances Haugen, recently shared with The Wall Street Journal a trove of documents detailing Facebook’s inner workings, which became the basis for the newspaper's recent revelatory investigative series about the tech giant. She publicly revealed her identity in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday. 

Facebook is manipulating its users into accepting a reality ... that maximizes the company’s profit at the expense of users’ sanity.

The documents Haugen provided to the Journal pointed to a culture of neglect at Facebook, including senior employees ignoring the site’s harmful impact on young girls and teenagers; reacting weakly to sex traffickers using the site; and manipulating everyday users who believe they’re scrolling and reacting of their own free will. 

“Facebook knows that content that elicits an extreme reaction from you is more likely to get a click, a comment or a reshare,” Haugen testified, adding that the company is well aware that it's "leading young users to anorexia content."

And that’s a major part of the problem. Facebook is manipulating its users into accepting a reality of its choosing — one that maximizes the company’s profit at the expense of users’ sanity.  

“They know that other people will produce more content if they get the likes, comments and reshares,” Haugen said. “They prioritize [your friends’] content in your feed so that you will give little hits of dopamine to your friends, so they will create more content.”

Tuesday’s hearing focused heavily on Facebook’s system of “engagement-based ranking.” Essentially, that is Facebook’s process of determining which content users see according to things they like, share, comment on and interact with on the site. 

Facebook’s ability to influence users by filling their timelines with targeted content has been discussed for years, but Haugen’s testimony Tuesday gave yet another stage to a warning we all should have heeded long ago: Facebook is bad for us. 

Like all addictions, this one is extremely hard for people to kick. 

Head over to The ReidOut Blog for more.

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