Facebook whistleblower fears Meta’s plan for the Metaverse

Meta Platforms, the owner of Facebook, is race to build the “metaverse”, and Frances Haugen is worried. The company’s notorious struggles to moderate content on its social media platform do not bode well for Meta’s ability to control what gets posted in the virtual world, said Haugen, the former Facebook product manager who has told lawmakers in October that Facebook prioritizes profit over user safety and programs its algorithms to promote divisive content.

“These are the exact same issues you’re going to see in VR,” Haugen said in an interview with CBS News, adding, “Facebook didn’t really design security from the start.”

Haugen said platforms like TikTok, where a small portion of the content drives the most views, are easier to moderate compared to Facebook’s more distributed model. In virtual spaces where Meta is betting big, moderating content, removing misinformation, and tracking violators will be a challenge as interactions go unrecorded.

“You don’t know who the person told you that horrible comment is,” Haugen said, noting that there are technological solutions that could protect people in the metaverse, such as logging activity.

“You could keep the last 20 minutes all the time and for the audio at least it’s not that much,” she said. “But it shows that they don’t have security by design because it’s an easy feature to have.”

Meta thoroughly on the metaverse

Meta CEO Mark Zuckberberg said the Metaverse – a so far mainly theoretical network of 3D virtual environments accessible with augmented and virtual reality headsets – will be the “successor to mobile internet. “Meta is spending $ 10 billion this year to create products and protocols that support video games, concerts, and workplace collaboration tools – a significant amount for a company that reported $ 29.01 billion. income dollars in the last quarter.

Experts believe that Zuckerberg’s vision of a open virtual ecosystem could cost between $ 800 billion and $ 1 trillion, and require the involvement of the company biggest rivals, including Microsoft, Google, Apple and others.

To that end, Meta has made an effort to show that it plans to work with other stakeholders to develop the Metaverse. In September, the company said building the interconnected grids would take up to 15 years and pledged to work with governments and academic researchers on key issues. He launched a two-year, $ 50 million research program to work with civil rights groups and nonprofits “to determine how to responsibly build these technologies.”

Last month, the company also announced a partnership with the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital to develop a digital youth literacy program for the Metaverse.

Haugen is not reassured by Meta’s commitment to collaborate. She said prioritizing building a virtual reality world suggests Zuckerberg is “disassociating himself” from the company’s current challenges, and she urged lawmakers to pressure Facebook to change its algorithms. and its content recommendation practices.

She suggested that lawmakers and regulators take into account the risks parents, community groups and activists attribute to Facebook’s algorithms and “combine the company’s assessment of its risk with the community’s assessment.” .

“Facebook should have to articulate what it’s going to do to fix each evil, because as long as Facebook is operating in the dark, they won’t do enough on any of these issues,” she said.

In a Senate hearing last week, Meta-owned Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri pledged transparency regarding the use of algorithms and ranking models.

“I can urge you today to provide meaningful access to the data so that third-party researchers can design their own studies and draw their conclusions on the effects of well-being on young people,” he said. “And on the ranking, I can commit to doing whatever I can to explain how the ranking works and to find other ways for us to be transparent about the algorithms.”

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Meta has defended its efforts to improve the tech giant’s content moderation practices. The company notes that it publishes a content enforcement report quarterly and is on track to spend more than $ 5 billion on security concerns this year. Meta also said it was working with independent academic researchers to examine the role Facebook played in the 2020 election.

“Every day, our teams must strike a balance between protecting the ability of billions of people to speak up and ensuring the security of our platform,” said Meta spokesperson Nkechi Nneji. , in a statement to CBS News. “While there is still work to be done, we continue to make progress with these investments,” she added.

Still, Haugen, who worked on algorithms while at Facebook, said the ranking models and the challenges associated with them aren’t going away anytime soon.

“The fundamental problem of our time is whether we want to be ruled by algorithms or do we want to be ruled by people,” she said.

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Meta argued that algorithms make the social media experience more meaningful for users. The company says its recommender technology is designed to increase positive sessions and bring family and friends closer together.

Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs at Meta, wrote an essay titled “Tango Takes Two” earlier this year, in which he described content ranking as a “dynamic partnership between people and algorithms.” .

The personalized ‘world’ of your news feed is strongly shaped by your choices and actions. It’s mostly made up of content from the friends and family you choose to connect with on the platform, the pages you choose to follow, and the groups. you choose to join, “Clegg wrote.” Ranking then is the process of using algorithms to order that content. “

Current legislation?

Lawmakers have said for months that bipartisan legislation to regulate social media companies is underway. They held multiple hearings, training tech CEOs and industry experts to answer questions about algorithms, content moderation, and user privacy. Senior executives from Meta, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok have all testified before the House and Senate this year, but meaningful legislation is still lagging behind.

Haugen, who signed a contract with Little Brown and Co. on Thursday, said she remained patient, while saying “the normal mechanisms to control a trillion dollar business do not exist.”

“We have already overcome huge, seemingly impossible things,” she said. “The Soviet Union fell, the British left India, apartheid ended. All of these things were impossible. They were impossible until they were inevitable.”

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