Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen launches nonprofit to fix social media

23 Sep 2022

Frances Haugen at Web Summit 2021. Image: Eóin Noonan/Web Summit

Known as Beyond the Screen, Haugen’s initiative will bring together experts to develop best practices around social media.

Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee and whistleblower, has launched a new nonprofit that aims to hold Big Tech accountable for harmful practices and make social media a safer place.

Beyond the Screen is a continuation of Haugen’s work to tackle online harms.

It will start with an open-source initiative involving a range of people who want reform in the way social media companies work, such as nonprofit leaders, academics, litigators and technologists.

They will work together to study the harms “created and exacerbated by social media” and identify best practices to nip them in the bud.

The nonprofit will work on this initiative with Project Liberty, a group that aims to improve the internet by creating “a more equitable digital economy and develop a new civic architecture for the digital world”.

Project Liberty will team up with Haugen through its McCourt Institute, named after the project’s founder Frank McCourt, a partnership between Sciences Po and Georgetown University to promote digital governance.

The institute is bringing together social scientists, policy experts and technologists to create new digital governance frameworks. It has committed $50m over the next 10 years to support researchers working towards the cause.

“We are pleased to welcome Frances and her colleagues into Project Liberty’s efforts to transform how the internet works and, specifically, to fix social media and repair what it has broken,” said Shéhérazade Semsar-de Boisséson, executive director of the McCourt Institute.

Who is Frances Haugen?

A former Facebook product manager, Haugen made a splash in the world of Big Tech last year after revealing herself as the source of thousands of leaked internal documents and claiming that Facebook and its family of apps were harmful for society.

“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” she said in an interview with CBS 60 Minutes. “And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimise for its own interests, like making more money.”

She filed complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that Facebook misled investors and the public about its role in “perpetuating misinformation” and its effects on teens and mental health.

Addressing EU lawmakers last November, Haugen called the Digital Services Act a potential “global gold standard” that could inspire other nations. This landmark law, passed earlier this year, demands that Big Tech takes control of content moderation and protects user data.

She also called for an investigation into Ireland’s Data Protection Commission after criticism that the body had failed in its responsibility to enforce EU data protection rules.

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Frances Haugen at Web Summit 2021. Image: Eóin Noonan/Web Summit via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic