If you pay close attention to this stuff, what she’s talking about is Platforms 101. But most people don’t pay close attention to this stuff. And what Haugen is doing here is articulating a very powerful point that many Facebook users still take for granted: What you see on Facebook is not organic presentation of information. It is the result of decisions made for you by the company’s software, which follows its leaders’ directives.
This is a powerful sentiment because it gives every Facebook user a tangible example of how the platform deprives them of a certain kind of agency. In 2018, when the Cambridge Analytica scandal was in its second week, I wrote that it would have staying power because it reminded regular users how platforms have “stripped us of the agency to dictate what happens with our most personal information.” I think Haugen’s testimony (and the documents that help back it up) will do something similar for people who may have not realized that Facebook is not a pure reflection of what’s happening in the lives of their friends and families — it is a highly curated one. Talking about Facebook from the perspective of user agency has the potential to be effective. The company isn’t all powerful and platforms aren’t mind controllers, but they do exert influence on how information is amplified. And that’s a responsibility to be held accountable for.
Facebook did not do itself any favours when, in 2014, it announced it had manipulated the emotions of hundreds of thousands of users for a week two years prior.