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Category: Health Magazine, Winter 2023

Title:Event focuses on teens and social media

Frances Haugen, the former Facebook project manager turned whistleblower, discussed “How Social Media Impacts Teen Health” at a virtual event hosted by the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development earlier this year.

“It may take us years to get the social media that we deserve as a society,” she said at the event. “But I think there is an opportunity for young people to claim their agency by supporting or mentoring each other.”

With previous stints at Google, Pinterest, and Yelp, Haugen was recruited to be a project manager for the civic integrity team at Facebook. Over time, she says, she became concerned by Facebook’s business practices regarding safety, including a pattern of prioritizing profits over the mental health of its users.

After contacting a law firm that represents whistleblowers, Haugen shared her story with members of Congress and journalists before testifying at an October 2021 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee.

“What Facebook has found is that if you take a brand-new Instagram account and you follow moderate topics like healthy recipes, the algorithm will amplify that interest until you are led to eating disorder content,” Haugen said.

Algorithms that favor engagement-based content ultimately promote content that is more extreme and polarizing, and less likely to draw attention to the work of content creators from diverse backgrounds, she explained.

“If you do not think about these issues, your algorithms will reinforce the biases of your society,” Haugen said. “So if content from African Americans gets clicked on less than content from people who are not racial minorities, the algorithm will steer attention away from them. There are real problems there around equity.”

Haugen’s future plans include helping young people build resiliency networks and creating open source tools that allow users to report misinformation posted on Facebook and track the company’s response. “We must use our power as a group to responsibly achieve honesty, transparency, and accountability on how social media is managed moving forward,” said Lee Jones, M.D., dean for medical education at the School of Medicine. “Jump in and be involved. Get your kids, get your brothers and sisters involved.”

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