Whistleblower Frances Haugen: Facebook would be better off without Mark Zuckerberg

Whistleblower Frances Haugen believes Facebook would be better off without founder Mark Zuckerberg at the top. “I think it is unlikely that the company will change with him as CEO,” said Haugen at the start of the Web Summit 2021 on Monday evening in Lisbon. Nevertheless, she does not think it is ruled out that Facebook can change for the better.

The company, which has now been renamed Meta, is setting the wrong priorities, says Haugen. Thousands are hired to develop games, but no investments are made in keeping the company safe. Facebook could be stronger with someone whose priority is user safety, the whistleblower said. Facebook’s engagement-based prioritization of content is dangerous because polarizing and extreme content receives the most reach.

The whistleblower initially had no plan to go public, but with her knowledge she could no longer work on Facebook. “Facebook wasn’t the first social network I worked for, it was the fourth social network,” said Haugen. “What I saw on Facebook was so much worse than anything I had seen before.”

The former Facebook employee had first made extensive internal documents available to the Wall Street Journal, which among other things showed that Facebook gives preferential treatment to some prominent users and is fully aware of the risks of its platforms for young people. She later openly confessed to being the source of the news and testified before the US Congress. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had rejected the representation as wrong.

After the Web Summit 2020 could only take place virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, the team around founder Paddy Cosgrave, in coordination with the Portuguese authorities, is now daring to restart with the handbrake on. The number of participants was limited to 40,000. 3G applies: If you want to be there in Lisbon, you have to have a digital EU Covid certificate or something comparable or a current test. All visitors must wear a mask in the halls.

The Web Summit is an important economic factor for the city and the country. Portugal has invested a lot to keep the event in town even longer. The government is relying on young companies and digitization to stimulate the economy. “Tell your friends that Lisbon and Portugal are a place where they can start a business and invest,” said the Secretary of State for Digital, Pedro Siza Vieira, on the visitors. “Lisbon is the right place for you,” said Mayor Carlos Moedas for his city as a start-up location.

Like other major events, the Web Summit had gone online due to the coronavirus pandemic last year. The organizers had long held on to the possibility of holding at least part of the conference on site in Lisbon. But the Portuguese authorities had the last word. After all, over 100,000 participants had registered for the virtual Web Summit 2020.

The app that the Web Summit publishes for Android and iOS has been a central tool for networking and communication between the thousands of participants for years. Based on this experience, Cosgrave’s team programmed a software platform for virtual and hybrid events – and thus opened up a new line of business. The Web Summit is now also selling the platform to other organizers. Because the industry agrees: virtual or hybrid events will continue to exist.

“We have been quietly developing our Summit Engine software for almost ten years to support our events. So it was easy for us to bring the events fully online during the pandemic,” said Cosgrave. “We know what challenges large and complex events are.” The United Nations was the first customer to use the software in March for a conference of the UN development program.

Shortly before the start of the Web Summit, the US Association of the Electronics Industry bought the Summit Engine for its leading trade fair CES. After the purely virtual CES this year, the electronics fair is scheduled to take place again in Las Vegas in January 2022, but as a hybrid event. “For CES 2022, we were looking for a platform that would benefit both virtual participants and those on site,” said CTA communications director Jean Foster. Microsoft, which provided the platform for the virtual CES 2021, no longer has a chance.

“We started as a small company and it’s a big deal for us,” said Cosgrave. In 2009 he founded the Web Summit with two colleagues as a meeting for the Irish web developer scene in Dublin. Around 400 people came to the first Web Summit. Within a few years, Cosgrave has expanded its small developer meeting into one of the largest tech events in the world. The Web Summit has not been held in Dublin since 2016 and has moved to Lisbon. Over 70,000 people recently took part there.


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