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How one Facebook worker unfriended the giant social network

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How one Facebook worker unfriended the giant social network

Less than two years after Facebook hired Frances Haugen to help correct dangerous distortions spilling across its platform, she had seen enough.

The idealism she and countless others had invested in promises by the world’s biggest social network to fix itself had been woefully misplaced. The harm Facebook and sibling Instagram were doing to users was rivaled only by the company’s resistance to change, she concluded. And the world beyond Facebook needed to know.

When the 37-year-old data scientist went before Congress and the cameras last week to accuse Facebook of pursuing profit over safety, it was likely the most consequential choice of her life.

And for a still-young industry that has mushroomed into one of society’s most powerful forces, it spotlighted a rising threat: The era of the Big Tech whistleblower has most definitely arrived.

“There has just been a general awakening amongst workers at the tech companies asking, `What am I doing here?’” said Jonas Kron of Trillium Investment Management, which has pushed Google to increase protection for employees who raise the alarm about corporate misdeeds.

“When you have hundreds of thousands of people asking that question, it’s inevitable you’ll get more whistleblowing,” he said.

Haugen is by far the most visible of those whistleblowers. And her accusations that Facebook’s platforms harm children and incite political violence — backed up by thousands of pages of the company’s own research — may well be the most damning.

But she is just the latest to join in a growing list of workers from across tech determined to speak out. Nearly all are women, and observers say that’s no coincidence.

Even after making inroads, women and especially women of color remain outsiders in the heavily male tech sector, said Ellen Pao, an executive who sued Silicon Valley investment firm Kleiner Perkins in 2012 for gender discrimination.

That status positions them to be more critical and see “some of the systemic issues in a way that people who are part of the system and who are benefiting from it the most and who are entrenched in it, may not be able to process,” she said.

In recent years, workers at companies including Google, Pinterest, Uber and Theranos, as well as others from Facebook, have sounded alarms about what they say are gross abuses of power by those in control.

Their new outspokenness is ruffling an industry that touts its power to improve society, while earning billions. Workers, many well educated and highly paid, have long embraced that ethic. But for a growing number, faith in the company line is fading.

Still, there is a difference between stewing about your company’s failings and revealing them to the world. There is a price to be paid, and Haugen certainly knew that.

“It absolutely is terrifying, terrifying to get to the point of doing what she did. And you know that the moment you start your testimony, your life is going to change,” said Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who blew the whistle on his own industry’s practices.

Since coming before Congress Tuesday, Haugen has receded from public view. A representative said she and her lawyer were unavailable for comment.

The Iowa-born daughter of a doctor and an academic turned pastor, Haugen arrives in the spotlight with sparkling credentials, including a Harvard business degree and multiple patents.

Long before she became a whistleblower, Haugen was something of a local wunderkind.

Raised near the University of Iowa campus, where her father taught medicine, Haugen was a member of a high school engineering team ranked in the country’s top 10. Years later, when the local newspaper wrote about Haugen’s landing at Google, one of her elementary school teachers recalled her as “horrifically bright,” while not at all self-conscious.

In the fall of 2002, she left for the newly established Olin College of Engineering, outside Boston, to join its first class of 75.

Many had declined offers from top universities, attracted by Olin’s offer of a free education to the first arrivals, and the chance to join in creating something new, said Lynn Andrea Stein, a computer science professor.

But the school couldn’t get its accreditation until it began producing graduates, making it a non-entity in the eyes of some employers and presenting a hurdle for Haugen and others like her.

“The Google folks actually threw out her application without reading it,” Stein said.

Stein helped persuade the company to change its mind, sending an email that described Haugen as a “voracious learner and an absolute can-do person” with terrific work ethic and communication and leadership skills.

At Google, Haugen worked on a project to make thousands of books accessible on mobile phones, and another to help create a fledgling social network.

Google paid for Haugen to get a graduate business degree at Harvard, where a classmate said even then they were having deep discussions about the societal effects of new technology.

“Smartphones were just becoming a thing. We talked a lot of about ethical use of data and building things the wrong way,” said Jonathan Sheffi, who graduated with Haugen in 2011. “She was always super-interested in the intersection of people’s well-being and technology.”

Sheffi said he laughed when he saw social media posts in recent days questioning Haugen’s motivations for whistleblowing.

“Nobody puts Frances up to anything,” he said.

While at Harvard, Haugen worked with another student to create an online dating platform to put like-minded mates together, a template the partner later turned into dating app Hinge.

Haugen returned to Google, before moving on to jobs at Yelp and Pinterest, at each stop working with the algorithms engineered to understand the desires of users and put them together with people and content that fit their interests.

In late 2018, she was contacted by a recruiter from Facebook. In recent interviews on “60 Minutes” and with the Wall Street Journal, Haugen recalled telling the company that she might be interested in a job if it involved helping the platform address democracy and misinformation. She said she told managers about a friend who had been drawn to white nationalism after spending time in online forums, and her desire to prevent that from happening to others.

In June 2019, she joined a Facebook team that focused on network activity surrounding international elections. But she has said she grew frustrated as she became more aware of widespread misinformation online that stoked violence and abuse and that Facebook would not adequately address.

She resigned in May, but only after working for weeks to sift through internal company research and copy thousands of documents. Still, she told congressional investigators, she is not out to destroy Facebook, just change it.

“I believe in the potential of Facebook,” she said during her testimony last week. “We can have social media we enjoy, that connects us, without tearing apart our democracy, putting our children in danger, and sowing ethnic violence around the world. We can do better.”

Maybe, but those who know the industry say Facebook and other tech giants will dig in.

“There’s going to be a clamp down internally. There already has been,” said Ifeoma Ozoma, a whistleblower at Pinterest now trying to encourage others in tech to expose corporate misconduct. “In that way there’s a chilling effect through the increased surveillance that employees will be under.”

Within the larger community of whistleblowers, many are rooting for Haugen, praising what they see as her gutsiness, calm intellect and the forethought to take the paperwork that reinforces her case.

“What she did right was she got all her documentation in a row and she did that up front. … That’s going to be her power,” said Eileen Foster, a former executive at Countrywide Financial who struggled to find another job in banking after exposing widespread fraud in the company’s approval of subprime loans in 2008.

Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook employee who last year accused the social network of ignoring fake accounts used to undermine foreign elections, said she was surprised the company had not caught Haugen when she was going through company research. Fierce denials by its executives now betray their unwillingness to change.

“I think they’ve fallen into a trap where they keep making denials and hunkering down and becoming more incendiary,” she said. “And this causes more people to come forward.”

Still, Haugen’s actions could well make it impossible for her to land another job in the industry, said Foster. And if Facebook goes after her legally for taking documents, it will have the resources for battle that a lone employee can never hope to match.

Foster recalls how her boss at Countrywide, an ally, begged her to give it up.

“He said ‘Eileen what are you doing? You are just a speck. A speck!’ And I said, `Yeah, but I’m a pissed-off speck,’” Foster said.

Years later, after enduring villainization by colleagues, rejections by employers and a lengthy court battle over her claims, she knows better. But she does not regret her choices. And she senses a similar conviction in Haugen, though their whistleblowing is separated by a generation.

“I wish the best for Frances,” she said.

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Instant contributors: Broncos’ 2021 draft class stepping into big roles as rookies

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Instant contributors: Broncos’ 2021 draft class stepping into big roles as rookies

Entering Sunday night’s game at Kansas City, the Broncos’ 2021 draft class has combined to play 1,921 offensive/defensive snaps. A look at each player:

Pat Surtain II

Round (pick): First (ninth).

Position: Cornerback.

Games/Starts: 11/10.

Defensive snaps: 612.

About Surtain: Tied for team lead in pass break-ups (11), second in interceptions (three) and fourth in tackles (37). … At least one pass break-up in 10 of 11 games. … Entered starting lineup in Week 2 when Ronald Darby (hamstring) was injured. … Named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after two fourth-quarter interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) in last week’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Javonte Williams

Round (pick): Second (35th).

Position: Running back.

Games/starts: 11/0.

Offensive snaps: 332.

About Williams: Second on team in rushing attempts (117), yards (568) and touchdowns (two). … Ranks 19th in NFL in rushing yards and 25th in carries. … Thirteen explosive rushes (gain of at least 12 yards), including carries of 20 (two), 30 (two), 31 and 49 yards. … One 100-yard game (111 in win at Dallas).

Quinn Meinerz

Round (pick): Third (98th).

Position: Right guard.

Games/starts: 9/3.

Offensive snaps: 247.

About Meinerz: Started last two games at right guard since Graham Glasgow’s season-ending broken leg, getting booked for one pass-rush disruption and two “bad” run plays. … From Division III to NFL is a big leap and Meinerz has answered challenge, showing power and athleticism.

Baron Browning

Round (pick): Third (105th).

Position: Inside linebacker.

Games/starts: 9/4.

Defensive snaps: 221.

About Browning: Limited by leg injury in training camp, used early part of regular season to play catch-up (four snaps in first seven games). … All 22 of his tackles have been in the last four games.

Caden Sterns

Round (pick): Fifth (152nd).

Position: Safety.

Games/starts: 11/1.

Defensive snaps: 194.

About Sterns: Thirteen tackles, two interceptions and two sacks. … Played primarily dime (sixth defensive back) role, but started for injured Kareem Jackson against Chargers (one pass break-up). … Interceptions against Jets and Cowboys, two sacks against Baltimore.

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Suspect’s parents charged in Michigan school shooting

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Suspect’s parents charged in Michigan school shooting

PONTIAC, Mich. — A prosecutor in Michigan filed involuntary manslaughter charges Friday against the parents of a boy who is accused of killing four students at Oxford High School, after saying earlier that their actions went “far beyond negligence.”

Jennifer and James Crumbley were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Under Michigan law, an involuntary manslaughter charge can be pursued if prosecutors believe someone contributed to a situation where harm or death was high. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

“The parents were the only individuals in the position to know the access to weapons,” Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said Thursday. The gun “seems to have been just freely available to that individual.”

Ethan Crumbley, 15, has been charged as an adult with two dozen crimes, including murder, attempted murder and terrorism, for the shooting Tuesday at Oxford High School in Oakland County, roughly 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Detroit.

Four students were killed and seven more people were injured. Three were in hospitals in stable condition.

The semi-automatic gun was purchased legally by Crumbley’s father last week, according to investigators.

Parents in the U.S. are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even as most minors get guns from a parent or relative’s house, according to experts.

There’s no Michigan law that requires gun owners keep weapons locked away from children. McDonald, however, suggested there’s more to build a case on.

“All I can say at this point is those actions on mom and dad’s behalf go far beyond negligence,” she told WJR-AM. “We obviously are prosecuting the shooter to the fullest extent. … There are other individuals who should be held accountable.”

Later at a news conference, McDonald said she hoped to have an announcement “in the next 24 hours.” She had firmly signaled that Crumbley’s parents were under scrutiny when she filed charges against their son Wednesday.

Sheriff Mike Bouchard disclosed Wednesday that the parents met with school officials about their son’s classroom behavior, just a few hours before the shooting.

McDonald said information about what had troubled the school “will most likely come to light soon.”

Crumbley stayed in school Tuesday and later emerged from a bathroom with a gun, firing at students in the hallway, police said.

The superintendent for the district late Thursday posted a YouTube video where he said the teenager was called to the office before the shooting but “no discipline was warranted.”

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Fact check: Did Kyle Rittenhouse really sue LeBron James for defamation?

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Fact check: Did Kyle Rittenhouse really sue LeBron James for defamation?

Kyle Rittenhouse did not sue LeBron James for defamation. Here are details about that and other untrue claims this week.

CLAIM: Federal magistrate approved Kyle Rittenhouse’s $110 Million defamation suit against LeBron James.

THE FACTS: No such ruling was made. Rittenhouse has not filed a defamation suit against the Los Angeles Lakers star or anyone else, his spokesperson told The Associated Press. After 18-year-old Rittenhouse was acquitted of homicide charges in connection with the shooting of three people at a protest in Wisconsin, posts emerged on social media suggesting that he had filed defamation suits against some high-profile celebrities, including James. However, the claims are “absolutely not true,” according to David Hancock, a spokesperson for Rittenhouse and his family. “No legal actions have been taken against any organization or person in particular,” Hancock told the AP. He added that Rittenhouse and his legal team are not currently discussing any plans to file any defamation lawsuits. The report appeared to have originated on a satire website. Similar claims saying Rittenhouse had filed defamation suits have circulated on social media in recent days. On Sunday, the AP reported on false claims saying he had filed lawsuits against CNN, along with Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, both hosts of “The View.” Rittenhouse fatally shot two men and injured another during protests that followed the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse, who faced charges, including first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree homicide, argued he acted in self-defense. A jury acquitted him on all charges on Nov. 19.

— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.

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Video of first lady’s book reading manipulated to add child’s comment

CLAIM: Video captures a child yelling an expletive at Jill Biden as she begins reading a story to a group of students.

THE FACTS: The video clip was manipulated to insert audio of a child yelling a disparaging comment. It emerged Monday after the first lady sat down with a group of second grade students from Maryland to host a story time at the White House as part of the annual unveiling of holiday decorations. The altered video shows a child screaming, “Shut the f— up,” just as Biden introduces the picture book she wrote. But that comes from an unrelated video that has been shared online since at least 2019. While some people commenting on the video acknowledged that it was altered, and linked to the source of the audio, others shared the falsified video as real. The inserted audio has spread online for years, and first emerged in a video that appeared to show a young child cursing during a school graduation ceremony as adults tried to quiet the situation. It is unclear where the video was taken, but it has since become a widely-shared sound effect and has been edited into other videos, often in a comedic way. In the altered Biden video, the first lady began to introduce her 2012 book, “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops,” saying: “When my son was away, my granddaughter — just like you kids — really, really missed her daddy. So I wrote this book to tell other kids, ’cause there’s lots of kids who don’t know what it’s like —.” The sound of the yelling child was then inserted at that point to make it appear a student heckled Biden mid-sentence. A video of Biden’s full remarks shows she was not interrupted and finished her sentence.

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.

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Ghislaine Maxwell trial audio isn’t accessible by phone line

CLAIM: Members of the public can call the phone number 844-721-7237 and enter access code 9991787 to listen to live audio of Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial.

THE FACTS: The phone number is from a previous teleconference and the code is no longer active. Callers to this number who use the code will receive the message: “your access code was not recognized,” as verified through an attempt by The Associated Press. Further, there is no such telephone line to listen to the trial audio, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. As Maxwell’s trial got underway on charges she groomed underage victims to have unwanted sex with the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, social media users circulated a number of false claims related to the trial, as well as incorrect explanations for why it is not being publicly broadcast online or on TV. Among the false claims that emerged this week was the assertion that a phone number and access code published by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in October would allow callers to listen in on the proceedings. Public telephone access to in-court criminal proceedings was previously provided in some cases “due to substantial restrictions on in-person attendance” during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement from the Office of the District Court Executive. The accommodation was discontinued in early November as in-person viewing was able to resume more regularly. Members of the media are not banned from the trial, either, as other social media users have falsely suggested. Reporters and members of the public are still able to watch the trial live, both in the courtroom, as well as in overflow rooms where it will be streamed for those who don’t get a seat, Judge Alison Nathan wrote in a Nov. 24 ruling. There are no other live feeds except those within the courthouse. Federal courts typically do not allow cameras like some state courts do. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to her charges and denied wrongdoing.

— Sophia Tulp

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Stores can’t write off customer donations made at checkout

CLAIM: When a customer elects to donate to charity at a store’s checkout counter, the store can write off that donation on its own end-of-year taxes.

THE FACTS: Stores can’t write off a customer’s point-of-sale donations, because they don’t count as company income, according to tax policy experts. Stores are only allowed to write off their own donations, such as when a store donates a certain portion of all its proceeds to charity. A widely circulating meme, shared thousands of times this week on Facebook and Instagram, claimed that retailers ask customers to add a little more for charity when checking out in order to fund their own tax write-offs. That’s misguided, according to Renu Zaretsky, a writer at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “The only way a company can write off money is if it’s income,” Zaretsky said. “And this is not counted as income.” Rather than receiving a customer’s donation as income, the company serves as a holding agent for that money, Zaretsky said. Customers may tally up their cash register donations for their own tax returns, but stores are not allowed to claim those. However, if a company gives to a charity on its own, not through prompting a customer to give, it can write off that money, according to Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation. Checkout charity campaigns bring in millions of dollars for charitable organizations each year, but customers should know they aren’t obligated to give when prompted, according to Zaretsky. They should also know, though, that a donation option at the cash register isn’t a sign of a money-hungry organization looking to lower its tax bill.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed the report.

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The World Economic Forum did not write about the omicron variant in July

CLAIM: The World Economic Forum published a story about the new coronavirus variant, now named omicron, in July 2021, months before South Africa first reported it to the World Health Organization this week.

THE FACTS: The WEF first published an article about detecting variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 in July, but archived versions of the story show it did not mention omicron at that time. The article was updated in November after the WHO’s announcement, the archives show. Scientists in South Africa identified and reported the new variant, B.1.1.529, on Nov. 24, saying it was behind a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country. By Nov. 26, the WHO had declared it a “variant of concern” and given it the name “omicron.” The next day, Twitter users circulated posts linking to the WEF article, suggesting that it showed the variant was not new at all. “They’re starting to make mistakes. WHO just said that ‘Omicron’ was first reported by South Africa on 11/24/21. However, WEF reported this EXACT same ‘variant’—B.1.1.529, out of South Africa—way back in July. Oops,” reads one post that was retweeted over 3,000 times. But previous versions of the WEF article stored by the Wayback Machine, an internet archive, show that it did not mention the new variant until recently, although the forum failed to note that the article had been updated until later. An archive of the page from July 12, when the story was first published, contains no mention of the new variant. Another version archived on Sept. 22 shows the article unchanged. A version from Nov. 26, after omicron was announced, shows the article had then been updated to say “South African scientists have discovered a new COVID-19 variant” and that it is called “B.1.1.529.” The article, however, still did not note that it had been updated — retaining the July 12 timestamp — as the false claims began circulating on social media, an archived version shows. A note was added later in the day saying: “This article was last updated on 26 November 2021.”

— Associated Press reporter Karena Phan in Sacramento, Calif., contributed this report.

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Photos of London Olympics don’t show prior knowledge of pandemic

CLAIM: Photos of the London Olympics opening ceremony in 2012 prove that the COVID-19 pandemic has been planned for a long time.

THE FACTS: The opening ceremony didn’t predict the COVID-19 pandemic, nor did its imagery relate in any way to the virus that would emerge and shut down the world eight years later, as a widely circulating Facebook post falsely claimed. The post shared images from the ceremony, from a scene featuring hospital beds, women in dresses and a giant, skeletal figure in a black robe with a white wand towering overhead, to falsely claim they prove the COVID-19 pandemic was premeditated. “Remember the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony, with the giant death figure holding a needle, the dancing nurses and all of the children in hospital beds?” the post read. “It’s starting to make a lot more sense now. They have had this planned for a long time.” However, the costumes and figures in the ceremony had no relationship to the COVID-19 pandemic, and predated it by years. Instead, they paid tribute to Britain’s National Health Service and to iconic British children’s literature, including the “Harry Potter” franchise and its robed villain, Voldemort. “To the strains of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, a scene of children in hospital beds was overrun by literary villains including Captain Hook, Cruella De Vil, the Queen of Hearts and Voldemort, before a group of flying nannies – reminiscent of Mary Poppins – arrived from the skies to banish the nightmarish characters,” the Olympics website explains. Patients and hospital staff from a London hospital were among the performers in the spectacle, according to local press reports.

— Ali Swenson

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Find AP Fact Checks here: https://apnews.com/APFactCheck

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Follow @APFactCheck on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APFactCheck

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