‘Terrifying’: Facebook whistleblower cites violence in Myanmar and Ethiopia, spying on China and Iran

By Caitlin Hu, CNN

In a much-anticipated testimony Tuesday before the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has repeatedly pointed out outside the country of examples of how the social network could be used in dangerous purposes – so much so that lawmakers wondered during the hearing whether they should meet to specifically discuss national security concerns.

The former product manager referred to a series of links between Facebook activity and deadly violence in Myanmar and Ethiopia, and spying by China and Iran.

“My fear is that without action, the divisive and extremist behaviors we see today are just the beginning. What we have seen in Myanmar and now in Ethiopia are the first chapters of a story so terrifying that no one wants to read the end of it, ”Haugen said, referring to recent bloodshed in both countries.

Facebook admitted in 2018 that it had not done enough to prevent the spread of messages stoking hatred against the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar. He has since pledged to limit the spread of “disinformation” in the country after a military coup earlier this year.

When asked by a senator whether Facebook is used by “authoritarian or terrorist leaders” around the world, Haugen replied that such use of the platform “certainly” occurs and that Facebook is “very aware” of it. .

Her last role at Facebook was with the company’s counterintelligence team, which she said “worked directly on monitoring Chinese participation on the platform, monitoring, for example, Uyghur populations in the whole world”.

“You could actually find the Chinese, relying on them to do this stuff,” she said.

In March, Facebook’s security team revealed that Chinese hackers had targeted Uyghur activists and journalists living outside the country with fake Facebook accounts and malware.

Haugen’s team also observed “the active involvement of, say, the Iranian government spying on other state actors.” It’s definitely something happening, ”she said.

This summer, Mike Dvilyanski, head of cyber espionage investigations at Facebook, told CNN that the company had disabled “less than 200 operational accounts” on its platform associated with the Iranian spy campaign, and informed a number Similar to Facebook users that they might have been targeted by the group.

Haugen, however, blamed “a constant understaffing of the counterintelligence intelligence operation and the (Facebook) terror team” for the continued proliferation of such threats, and said she also spoke with other parts of Congress.

The revelation prompted Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, to suggest that national security issues be explored more deeply in the future.

Engagement based ranking

According to Haugen, engagement-based ranking – which amplifies content that prompts users to respond with likes, shares or comments – “literally stirs up ethnic violence” in countries like Ethiopia, which is torn apart by deep regional and ethnic divisions.

“I encourage the reform of these platforms, not by picking and choosing individual ideas, but by making the ideas safer, less edgy, less viral, because that’s how we solve these problems in an evolutionary way. “she said.

While Facebook has developed measures to mitigate the danger, they are applied unevenly across languages ​​of the world, Haugen said.

“Facebook also knows, they admitted in public, that engagement-based ranking is dangerous without integrity and security systems, but it then failed to deploy those integrity and security systems in most. languages ​​of the world, and that’s what causes things like ethnic violence in Ethiopia.

Following the hearing, Facebook released a statement attempting to discredit Haugen and challenging “his characterization” of many issues.

“Today a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct report, never attended at a decision point meeting with C-level executives – and testified more than six times not to work on the subject in question, ”the statement read, tweeted by spokesman Andy Stone.

“We don’t agree with her description of the many issues she testified to. Despite all of this, we agree on one thing; it’s time to start creating standard rules for the Internet.

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