In terms of measurable damage to Facebook, the revelations of whistleblower Frances Haugen probably did less than the global outage it suffered around the same time she was testifying on Capitol Hill. On October 4, Facebook’s platform and family of applications, including WhatsApp and Instagram, went dark for nearly six hours. The outage disconnected billions of users, disrupted operations for businesses around the world that rely on Facebook to reach customers, and kept millions of people from logging into their internet-connected devices and services. Facebook lost $13 million in advertising revenue every hour the platform was down, and its stock valuation dropped by $50 billion.
That doesn’t make Haugen’s revelations any less important. The public surely benefited from hearing about Facebook’s practices from a former insider, information the company would rather keep to itself. This included research showing the harmful effects of Instagram on the emotional and mental health of teenage girls. It also included documents acknowledging that divisive political speech and misinformation on Facebook are affecting societies around the world, and that it is able to address only 3 to 5 percent of this material, contrary to public assurances it has been moderating content much better. Haugen also revealed that the company still emphasizes a metric known as “meaningful social interaction,” promoting controversial, hot-button posts—like divisive political speech and misinformation—that drive emotionally fueled engagement and are far more widely viewed. In short, Facebook prioritizes profit over safety. This likely comes as no surprise to anyone who’s followed the actions of a company that the Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance calls “a lie-disseminating instrument of civilizational collapse.”