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Back in 2021, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen captivated the world with her behind-the-scenes descriptions of how Facebook had covered up key findings, hid important data, and glossed over serious problems with the platform. She leaked documents to the media, testified in front of Congress, and then appeared on “60 Minutes” in October 2021 to detail her allegations to the American public. Well, she’s back with a new plan to save social media, and it comes in the form of a new nonprofit called Beyond the Screen.
The Facebook whistleblower is back with a new plan to save social media
Beyond the Screen will be a new open-source database of how Big Tech companies (and especially social media giants like Facebook) are failing in their legal, ethical and moral obligations to society. Haugen has already released hundreds of thousands of pages of leaked documents about Facebook, and the intention here is to encourage the same kind of “public outing” of bad social media practices across the industry.
The goal of the new nonprofit is to detail the various online harms being caused to social media users, and then come up with solutions for how to address them. For example, Haugen has focused on the harmful effects of social media on children and teens. As Haugen has shown, companies like Facebook are aware of these harmful effects, but have done nothing about them. Instagram knows that too much usage of its platform can cause anxiety, lack of self-esteem, and might even lead to dangerous self-harm – yet it does everything it can to keep users on the platform. Facebook knows that sexual predators and drug dealers might be lurking on its platform, but has not done enough to protect children from these bad actors.
Can a nonprofit change the world?
If you’re a skeptic, you might not think that a single nonprofit can change the world. But it can. For example, Haugen was a huge supporter of new legislation in the state of California designed to protect children from social media harms. The new legislation, signed into law by Governor Newsom, is known as the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act. In simple terms, it ensures that big social media companies are taking specific steps to design experiences for teens and young adults, and not just using the same templates they have for older users and streamlining them for kids. For example, YouTube loves to hook you on its videos by auto-playing one video after the next, thereby addicting you to the platform. That type of feature simply is not appropriate for young users.
Healthier social media
It’s hard not to see that social media is not very healthy these days. Beyond all the misinformation and disinformation on all these platforms, there are concerns about security and privacy. There are concerns that young users are being turned into “addicts” who must “detox” if they ever want to get their lives back into order.
Against this backdrop, it’s important to applaud brave whistleblowers like Frances Haugen and the launch of new nonprofits like Beyond the Screen. It’s time we get healthier social media, not the kind of unhealthy social media that has unfortunately become the norm these days. If we don’t do it for ourselves, let’s at least do it for our kids.