Facebook whistleblower Frances Hogan has a new mission

Frances Hogan was cooking dinner on a Friday evening when her phone rang. On the other end of the line was the White House.

Deputy Chief of Staff Bruce Reed asked, Could Haugen reach Washington in four days. She was chosen to be the first lady’s guest at the upcoming State of the Union.

“It was pretty devastating,” recalls Hugin, who lives in Puerto Rico. “But, you know – the kind of turbulence you don’t mind.”

Only in October, during the “60 Minutes” interview, Hogan was first She introduced herself publicly As a whistleblower responsible for leaking thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents to Congress, the Wall Street Journal, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Those disclosures – which were later made available to many other news outlets, Including The Times — Turned the former Facebook product manager into facing a long-running backlash against Facebook, its sister app Instagram, and the social media industry in large part. By publishing files showing that Facebook (which has since changed its name to Meta Platforms) was internally aware of a variety of issues with its products, including The effect they can have On the mental health of teens, Haugen offered the company’s critics something very similar to a smoke pistol.

The transition to public figure was unlikely for Hogan. “I don’t crave attention,” she told The Times. “I ran away the first time I got married. I had two birthday parties almost 20 years later.”

But now, her profile has been boosted by a presidential shout-out in the State of the Union address, Haugen is making the most of her new program. And that means throwing its weight behind efforts to solve the same problems it helped expose, including in California.

The centerpiece of her efforts was a bill that slipped through the state assembly. Called the California Age-appropriate Design Act, it will require web platforms that children likely use to put it in place. Data privacy measures Such as making user settings high privacy by default, describing privacy policies in language that children can understand and prohibiting the use of children’s personal information for any purpose other than the purpose for which it was initially collected.

“I don’t want to take too much credit [the bill] “Because I wasn’t involved in drafting it,” Haugen said. “But I’m a strong proponent because we need to start extending the same standards we have for children’s physical games into the virtual space because right now there are some crazy consequences that are happening because these products are not designed for kids.”

Haugen conducted a question-and-answer session for state legislators in Sacramento a few weeks ago — “I am very willing to help answer questions for anyone who wants to understand more about the effects of [of] Algorithms”—and also spoke at the Mom 2.0 Summit, a Los Angeles gathering of influencers focused on parenting in late April.

Haugen’s focus largely on how social media affects younger users is no accident. Although her disclosure sheds light on a wide range of Internet issues — disinformation, extremism and human trafficking — it is content related to children and teens that appears to have moved most lawmakers.

In particular, an internal Facebook research that Haugen helped make public showed that nearly a third of teenage girls the company surveyed said that “when they feel bad about their bodies, Instagram makes them feel bad.” The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that Facebook had downplayed its mental health impact on young users.

The company maintained after the leak that its research had been misrepresented, but the revelation nonetheless sparked Congress Hearings And although the age-appropriate design law was developed independently of Haugen, it raised the stakes for the California bill.

“Francis has brought tremendous public awareness to this issue, particularly with regard to the cause of children,” said association member Buffy Weeks (D-Oakland), who authored the Design Code Act, in an emailed statement. “I am grateful that she came to Sacramento last month to speak to lawmakers and advocates, and that she has continued to lend her voice and experience to explain why policies like the blog are needed to keep children safe online.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Haugen said she’s not surprised that this part of her leaks has generated so much interest.

“The solutions to a lot of the problems described in my disclosures are very complex,” she said. “When it comes to kids, it’s really simple.”

The impact of social media on children has become such a hot issue that a second bill with a similar focus is now also moving through the assembly: the Social Platform Duty To Children Act, which would allow parents to Sue social media companies To design addictive software. Haugen said she was unaware of the bill, but its co-sponsor Jordan Cunningham (R-Paso Robles), told The Times in March that her leaks were a catalyst. (A representative for Cunningham said the assembly member did not work or speak with Haugen directly. Wicks, an Auckland Democrat, is also a co-sponsor of the Children’s Duty Act.)

Common Sense Media has been a prominent advocate for Haugen, a non-profit organization Analyze the effect Media and Technology on Youth, and Jim Steyer, its founder and CEO. CommonSense Media asked Haugen if it would help her support the age-appropriate design law, the whistleblower said, and she said yes.

“Francis has turned out to be an excellent partner for us because…she does a great job explaining how technology platforms work, some of the harms involved and why we need major legislation and regulations,” Steyer said. brother 2020 presidential candidate and hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer.

Steyer said his organization has been working with Haugen for about five months, after her legal team contacted her about cooperation: “We started planning ways we could work on federal legislation, as well as California legislation, as well as on youth mobilization.” (Wicks uses to work at Common Sense Media.)

Steyer said the organization also worked with the White House to get Hogan to the State of the Union.

Haugen’s influence extends well beyond the West Coast. She estimates she spent about five and a half weeks in Europe working for support Historical EU Law The Digital Services Act – which would force social media platforms, including Facebook, to further moderate hate speech, misinformation and other user-generated content, as well as ban online ads targeting children. Both the European Parliament and the member states of the European Union have Agree on DSA contents, although they are still subject to official approval.

“Up until the passing of the DSA, that was kind of the main focus, which was providing support around awareness gain,” Haugen said. She was on the ground “supporting legislators, giving testimony, and meeting with various ministries.” [and] meeting with other civil society groups”, as well Wrote An opinion piece in the New York Times supports the law.

She has also been involved in Environmental, Social and Governance, or ESG, efforts aimed at helping investors “set standards for how to assess whether or not social media companies are behaving in a social way,” she said, and is working to establish a nonprofit that will bring this work together. With litigation support as well as educational efforts geared towards educating people on social media. Steyer said his organization is helping Haugen “incubate” her nonprofit.

It is the meteoric rise of someone who had no national image less than a year ago.

“When I disclosed the documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Congress, I had no expectations of what would happen,” Haugen said. “My main goal is that I didn’t want to bear the burden for the rest of my life that I knew something and did nothing.”

But for all that has happened since she rose to the public eye — White House phone calls, European expeditions, the friction of political weights in California — Haugen said the main difference she’s seen over the past few months is the weight that’s been lifted off her shoulders.

She said, “The most important thing that has changed in my life is that I can sleep at night.”

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