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Facebook has been dropped by the U.S.'s largest Latino Civil Rights organization. Graphic: UnidosUS

UnidosUS cuts ties with Facebook over whistleblower revelations

“Our experience over the past few years has shown that it’s not possible for Facebook to hold itself accountable.” -UnidosUS President & CEO Janet Murguía.

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UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights advocacy organization, has cut ties with Facebook, after a former employee turned whistleblower brought to light thousands of internal documents showing that Facebook executives were aware of negative impacts their platforms have on certain users.

The whistleblower, Frances Haugen, was a former product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team, and previously worked as a product manager for Pinterest, Yelp and Google.

Haugen detailed the company’s research to the Wall Street Journal and later, in front of Congress. On her personal website, she revealed that during her time at the company, she became “increasingly alarmed” at the decisions Facebook made to put their own profits before public safety.

One of the documents discovered that of teens reporting suicidal ideation, 6% of American users traced these thoughts back to Instagram.

Haugen also pointed out that Facebook’s algorithm pushes misinformation onto users.

After the company acknowledged the risk of misinformation in the 2020 election, it added safety systems to reduce the risk. But Haugen said it loosened these measures once the election ended. 

“As soon as the election was over, they turned them back off or they changed the settings back to what they were before, to prioritize growth over safety. And that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me,” she told The Wall Street Journal.  

In a tweet, UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía called the revelations a “breaking point” that has forced her organization to sever all corporate ties with the social media network, in efforts to “better serve and protect the Latino communities we advocate for.” 

In a statement, Murguía said that the internal documents have confirmed what UnidosUS has long suspected: that Facebook has been engaging with them and with the civil rights community “in bad faith.”

“We have called attention repeatedly to concerns about the negative impact that the proliferation of hate and misinformation on the platform has had on the Latino community. We know now that Facebook’s failure to adequately address those concerns was deliberate and resulted in even greater levels of hate and misinformation on the site,” she wrote. 

Such algorithms have also enhanced the viral nature of misleading headlines and poorly examined sources, according to a recent Nielsen report published on Friday, Oct. 1. 

The report on U.S. Latinos showed that Latino audiences are more likely to to receive, consume and share fake news online compared to the general population. 

Young Hispanics between 18-34 are more than twice as likely than the general population to use WhatsApp and Telegram. 

“When information is shared on these networks, it can be amplified in a way that doesn’t get the opportunity to get a fact-check because they’re in encrypted, private messaging apps versus in traditional social media,” Stacie de Armas, senior vice president of diverse insights at Nielsen told NBC News.

After Haugen leaked this evidence, a spokesperson for Facebook, Lena Pietsch responded in a statement by saying that their teams are working every day to balance the billions of Facebook users “expressing themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place.” 

In a statement provided to The Hill, Facebook said that it respects UnidosUS’ decision. 

“We remain committed to engaging with experts and civil society groups, who help inform our approach as we shape our policies and products, leaning on the expertise of our new Civil Rights Team," a spokesperson said. 

Internal research included evidence that Facebook was underfunding content moderation in languages that aren’t English. Advocacy groups have criticized the platform for permitting Spanish language misinformation about everything from the 2020 election to the coronavirus pandemic to spread on its services, including WhatsApp. 

“Our experience over the past few years has shown that it’s not possible for Facebook to hold itself accountable. Going forward, we will be supporting both regulatory and legislative efforts to provide public oversight to ensure long-overdue and much-needed transparency and accountability of social media platforms, starting with Facebook,” Murguía said.

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