Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen launches her own nonprofit

Barbie Espinol

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

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

Beyond the Screen is an open-source initiative that will involve 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, according to a press release announcing the launch yesterday (22 September).

A former Facebook (now Meta) 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 that exposed how Facebook and its family of apps was harmful for society, especially children.

“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.”

Days later, she went on to testify before a US Senate subcommittee, and later, the Securities and Exchange Commission, about how 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 then-proposed Digital Services Act (DSA) as a potential “global gold standard” that can inspire other nations. The DSA, a landmark ruling passed earlier this year, aims to rein in the power of Big Tech in the EU.

She even called for an investigation into Ireland’s Data Protection Commission after criticism the body had failed in its responsibility to enforce GDPR.

Her latest nonprofit has been launched in collaboration with Project Liberty, an initiative that aims to improve the internet by creating “a more equitable digital economy and develop a new civic architecture for the digital world”.

The project 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 includes a $50m commitment over the next 10 years to support researchers working towards the cause.

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

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