On 5 Oct 2021 testimony was given before Congress by one Frances Haugen, a supposed whistleblower from Facebook, about the need for certain regulations to be placed upon the media giant. That was the day after Facebook went ‘dark’ for over six hours and lost significant stock value. Was it a warning shot? Who knows? But as to why Frances Haugen is a ‘supposed’ whistleblower, that will be outlined as we go along in this post. Her testimony comes a day after the release of the Pandora Papers, which have been outed by commentators in independent media as a US government psy-op, though it did serve some positive purposes. Just who is Frances Haugen, though, and what is the agenda the Beltway is seeking to force upon social media? And is Haugen a part of that agenda? There is more to this social media story than we are told.
To recap the story thus far, and continuing from the post on the Pandora Papers, the Facebook saga in its current incarnation began in September, when Frances Haugen, then an ex-employee of Facebook, leaked a tranche of tens of thousands of internal documents from Facebook to The Wall Street Journal. Those documents and subsequent reporting on them have come to be known as the Facebook Files. After the release of those documents, Haugen appeared on 3 Oct on Sixty Minutes and revealed herself to be the source of the leak. She had left Facebook in May of this year. We’ll pause here and have a look at Facebook’s chart, below (bigger):
Any internet entity is ‘born’ when it registers its DNS address online. For Facebook (FB), that was 11 Jan 2004, at 9:53 am, Menlo Park, CA, USA. For Facebook, it was first registered as ‘thefacebook.com’ and later changed the DNS. The initial registration gives a better working chart for FB than the 4 Feb 2004 chart that one often finds on the net. The public face of FB is the 4 Feb 2004 chart, whereas the first registration gives the nuts and bolts of the organization. We could say that FB is two-faced.
The immediate standout in the chart with transits and directions is the transiting Pluto semisquare to the FB Ascendant, showing a radical change in one’s circumstances. This is one of the ‘life’s milestone’ transits or directions, as both the transit and direction last about the same amount of time for Pluto.
The next standout is the combined Mercury/Pandora transit opposite Eris and squaring the FB Sun, showing the shakeup and alarm at Facebook HQ, as described in Part I, the Pandora Papers. Pluto and Eris had been slowly hammering away at Facebook’s reputation for the past year or two as they did the dance if their squares, affecting the FB Sun, in fact, since early 2018.
Further from the Pluto/Eris square, FB was founded with its Sun square to Eris, which is quite interesting regarding the mythology of Eris. One of the features of FB is the ‘like’ button, which goes across many social media platforms and is one of Facebook’s signature logos. So, whose posts are the fairest? This goes to the golden apple of Eris, which bore the inscription, “To the fairest”. It is a source of angst to users of the FB platform when they do not receive ‘Likes’ for their posts, and a source of endorphin rush when they receive copious ‘Likes’. But it is also used by FB to mine user data and to tweak its algorithms, as well as being used to distort proper user metrics for advertisers. In other words, the Sun/Eris square has been problematic for FB as well as divisive in many cases for the users of the platform. And this also goes to why FB has come under scrutiny for its practices.
Since its inception, social media has been a wonderful medium for staying in touch with family and friends scattered across the globe. It has also been a boon for businesses to connect with people and for business transactions. These businesses must engage in those media platforms in order to survive these days, and the platforms derive their income from advertising. But that also brings in a darker side to the main platforms.
Social media has been used by various groups for more nefarious and coercive purposes, too. The July protests in Cuba were enabled and promoted via a private local Facebook group, but with many of the group members living outside Cuba, as in Miami. The group started as a kind of local marketplace. We have a similar local group here in Rovereto used for local news. But the Cuban version was quickly taken over by right wing groups and began concerted anti-government posting. They have promised larger protests for this month and the next. A Twitter group funded by the NED has also played a hand in Cuban unrest recently, but had to abruptly shut down once it became too obvious who was funding it. The US hand in Cuban protests is well known to the Cuban government.
Social media was also prominent in the Arab Spring uprisings. Activists in Arab Spring nations actively used social media platforms to promote protests and spout anti-government propaganda. Some comment dubbed the Arab Spring uprisings as “the Facebook Revolutions”. Of course, that has also worked in the opposite direction, with governments de-platforming people and organizations that spread content against the state. This latter consideration is what brings us to the subject of this post, because what we observe in ‘repressive governments’ (some of which are) in the use of social media against dissidents and anti-government forces is precisely what is being proposed and brought to us via ‘mission-creep’ on social media platforms across the West, like Facebook and Twitter. Cue Frances Haugen.
Continuing with the astrology for FB on the 5th, the losses which FB and Zuckerberg by extension experienced on the 4th and the Haugen testimony the day after are shown by the directed midpoints to Venus, shown in the red box in the 8th house. Venus rules the FB 8th house (losses) and the transiting Mercury/Pandora conjunction was on the cusp of that house on the day, with the main direction being the directed Mars/Saturn midpoint, which speaks of loss, sorrow and separation, this time induced by a female’s (Venus) testimony. That will soon be followed by the directed Neptune/Ascendant midpoint to Venus, paraphrasing:
“An antagonistic or cold emotional environment, the longing for acceptance, an impressionable person with regard to the feeling of popularity. – Painful experiences in popularity, to show dislike.”
Facebook’s woes are due to a variety of factors, and those only look set to increase. Even though FB is still the king of social media platforms, that status is changing, particularly among younger users. It is no longer ‘cool’ to be on FB to many younger users, especially when their parents are on there, too. But even older users, concerned about privacy issues and annoyed by irritating ads, are searching for alternatives. Instagram and Snapchat are more preferred among younger users, even though FB owns Instagram. The directions to Venus in Facebook’s chart show a rocky road ahead and a loss of status, increasing over the next few years, along with increasing oversight, shown by directed Pluto to the natal Saturn, followed a couple of years later by the directed MC to the natal Saturn.
Haugen is a bit of an unknown quantity. We don’t know her family background or much of anything about her personal life. For more conspiratorial types this would be enough to start the alarm bells chiming. What we do know is that she has a MBA in business admin and her undergrad degree in computer and electrical engineering, specializing in algorithms. She has worked as project manager for Yelp, Google, Pinterest and finally Facebook and cofounded a dating site called Hinge. She has made the rounds of Big Tech, and she knows how they market themselves. She also has/had a six-figure salary and a net worth of a million+ dollars. Why is any of this important?
Buried in one of her most extensive online bios is a statement to the effect that Haugen has or had an interest of possibly becoming a lawyer and going into politics. She has long had an interest in civic/social issues and politics. This is where her testimony before Congress becomes somewhat problematic, in that she has been touted as a whistleblower, yet her testimony and the company at which it is directed point to other factors at work. Keep in mind that now she has come out as a whistleblower at one of the biggest tech firms, her future for employment at such firms will hereafter come under intense scrutiny by potential employers. Where will that leave her? Perhaps she might enter a government department overseeing tech companies at some point, maybe? Who can say? The issue here is not about Haugen, but what she represents.
Her testimony before Congress was carefully scripted, with all the right catch-words for Congress and the media – FB policies representing a “national security issue”, the threat of “undermining our democracy” and of “undermining other democracies”, “making young girls and women feel bad about their bodies” (What about boys and the effects upon or by them?), mentioning Ethiopia, Myanmar, China, Iran and Russia (Why?) and so on. For instance, no one outside of DC really cares about or even knows what is going on in Ethiopia. Why bring it up to Congress on national television? Her talking points, at least some of them, come straight out of national security-speak, as if her presentation had been groomed by national security organizations. And other talking points have clear emotional hooks in them.
There is a video worth watching where much of the preceding paragraph is laid out. But this sort of thing is not unique to Facebook. The sorts of activities Haugen mentions go on with other tech oriented organizations. The Canadian military, in the early days of the pandemic, took it upon themselves, without government oversight and without telling anyone, to test their propaganda and information warfare techniques on an unsuspecting public:
“The plan devised by the Canadian Joint Operations Command, also known as CJOC, relied on propaganda techniques similar to those employed during the Afghanistan war. The campaign called for “shaping” and “exploiting” information. CJOC claimed the information operations scheme was needed to head off civil disobedience by Canadians during the coronavirus pandemic and to bolster government messages about the pandemic.”
Does the bolded bit sound a little familiar in terms of social media censorship during the pandemic across Western societies, or about Trump and the 6 January Capitol fracas? It should, because the national security state within each nation uses such techniques. And in corporate social media, which they all are in the West, the temptation is strong to censor information that does not gibe with the particular leanings of the platform. And in the US, those platforms are heavily influenced by the Democratic Party and corporate interests. (I don’t align myself with any political party in the US or elsewhere, for the record.)
Coming back to Haugen, then, she did say some positive things in her testimony and brought up some changes that need to be made, such as that Facebook’s algorithms that push certain toxic sites and conversations is wrong and needs to be stopped and that Instagram encourages toxic self-image messages to young women. Where her messaging becomes unclear and more evidently leaning to more government control is when she talks about giving oversight of platforms like FB to Congress and creating a government regulatory body to oversee content. Well, Facebook is already partnered with the Atlantic Council – the primary think tank in Washington that molds government foreign policy – and was partnered with the now defunct neocon rag, The Weekly Standard.
Keep in mind, the ‘fact checkers’ like the Atlantic Council are only interested in their version of what they call the facts. Those facts would be the ones that further Atlanticist aims, i.e. Washington’s agendas, like weeding out ‘Russian trolls’, making certain we see only the data from American/Western-backed medical sources and making certain Trump stays de-platformed, even though the Biden administration continues many of Trump’s policies. These are just a few examples. You don’t, for instance, see much in the way of pro-Russian, pro-Iranian, pro-Chinese, pro-Venezuelan content on Facebook, do you? And that brings us back to Haugen, again.
In the Q&A after Haugen’s testimony about FB, she was repeatedly asked what her recommendations would be in order to fix the problems at the tech giant. Her answers to Congress have been described as ‘some incredibly weak tea’:
- “Establish a Facebook policy “on how to share information and research from inside the company to appropriate oversight bodies like Congress.”
- Have the company reinstitute “soft interventions that were implemented to protect the 2020 election,” akin to Twitter’s prompt for users to read a link before sharing it.
- Create a “regulatory home [within the Federal government] where someone like me can do a tour of duty after working at place like this, and have a place to work on things like regulation,” because, as Haugen argued in the hearing, the people who can work on these issues best are those who have been inside the companies.”
From the same article it was noted that, “…none of these solutions would change the structures that produced Facebook and all of the problems it has created. Indeed, she specifically argued against structural solutions like breaking up Facebook.” Rather than being a whistleblower, Haugen appears to be controlled opposition. If one reads between the lines on much of the media reporting on her testimony it is clear she is calling for more government regulation of social media and the internet than for real change. And the mainstream media heartily agrees.
There are increasing calls by lawmakers to overturn or rework Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, taking these ideas further. Basically, that section means the tech companies cannot be sued for publishing content if someone dislikes the content. Both Trump and Biden would like to see the protection removed. But removing it would also remove protections for journalists who post unfavorable content and would see a sharp curtailing of independent journalism on the internet, since the media platforms would be very wary of inciting lawsuits by supporting journalism that runs counter to establishment norms.
Haugen is in favor of modifying 230 with respect to the algorithms that push certain content, but that would essentially have the same effect as de-platforming dissident or contrary content. Such actions would ‘sanitize’ the internet. People would have to turn to VPNs to access information outside of establishment channels. That may be a good idea anyway. For instance, Facebook is banned in China, Iran and North Korea. But Chinese people using a VPN can still access Facebook. Regarding travel, there is a word to the wise: When you plan your trip to North Korea, be aware that Facebook is banned in that nation. You won’t be able to post pictures with Kim on FB of your visit.
It is alleged Frances Haugen has close ties with the Democratic Party. Forbes just posted a piece on the right wing response to Haugen’s testimony, with independent commentators on the right claiming she is a ‘plant’ and the whole testimony is aimed at curtailing if not squashing conservative content on the platform. Republican members of Congress, on the other hand, tended to support Haugen’s testimony, which lasted about three hours. If by ‘curtailing conservative content’ the conservative commentators mean curtailing personal liberties, squashing free speech and pushing neoliberal agendas, they would be correct. And if the powers-that-be can do so to the largest social media platform in the world, the other, at least US-based platforms would soon follow. As Pluto makes its return in the US chart from now through 2023 these efforts will only intensify.
Then, lastly, we need to look at the outage Facebook suffered on 4 Oct this year. That was a big outage, not one normally attributed to a ‘glitch’ as FB tried to spin it. Normally, glitches in internet systems are fixed within an hour. But this was something else. The entire headquarters was shut down and inaccessible. Not even the man Zuck could get the system back up and the domain name was even put up for sale during the period. That just does not happen with a ‘glitch’. Perhaps tech people might be able to supply evidence to the contrary. Instead, the Facebook outage has the appearance of a cyber-attack, and there are rumors to that extent:
“Facebook employees used saws and axes to get into their working places, for the smart doors stubbornly refused to yield the way and their badges had lost their magic touch. It seems the Internet trouble had been initiated by some unknown forces outside of Facebook. These forces have access to the inner working of the Internet. Perhaps it was military; or some obscure technicians guarding Internet secrets. They proved their power: even Facebook’s domain was placed up for sale. Mark Zuckerberg could not do it, I was told. Was it a blackmailer’s threat to global finance? Or an attempt to deflect Congressional hearings? Perhaps it was a simple demonstration of naked power.”
My interpretation would be that of a hack or attack. Given what was taken down and the severity, even to the point of putting the DNS up for sale, this was a sophisticated attack, and a warning shot, not just to Facebook but to Zuckerberg. That is shown by the Neptune direction to natal Mars and Uranus simultaneously in the FB chart: “Cunning and deceitfulness, a low and mean way of acting, the desire to harm other people, a person with bad intentions. – A swoon or fainting fit when overtaxing one’s strength, a fit of rage or frenzy, also raving madness, (a car- accident).” The direction was from the FB 12th house – hidden enemies, secret societies, subversion and the secret services. The swoon was the outage.
As to the ‘person (or group) with bad intentions’, take a guess. Conspiracies galore arose online about the outage. But if you are thinking ‘Russia’ or China’ or some other ‘rogue state’, think again. There was a ridiculous claim some 13 y/o Chinese hacker caused the outage has been debunked, for instance. So, who had the most to gain from doing such a thing? The lack of any claims it was a cyber-attack by foreign actors are telling.
Washington is keen to place further controls on social media content. They would have the most to gain. As to foreign states, Russia lost 14% of its business on that day due to the outage. But then, so did many other businesses worldwide. Russia has used the event to highlight its own need for a sovereign internet and social media services. It saw a jump in its subscriptions to Telegram and VK on the day. On the other side, the Russians are also seeking a hefty payout from FB for failure to remove certain content, remembering FB is used to sow discontent in states the US doesn’t like.
The US government apparently wants to oversee Facebook in order to further their own ends, which would be to stifle public dissent and push certain agendas, an experiment that has been tried both with Trump and with COVID. But doing so ‘would undermine our democracy’, which is exactly what Haugen’s recommendations would do. That said, Facebook is a private platform and can set its own rules within limits. It is not a public utility that must respond to the public will.
Facebook’s drive is for corporate profits. It is a corporation, after all, something which the public does not seem to take into account. That is true of all the Big Tech giants. It is free to the casual user, but corporations call the tune as to what gets promoted, and the algorithms duly carry out the task of that promotion. Corporations depend on the algorithms that Frances Haugen oversaw and had input on their usage, or tried to. But, what if…
What if the FB outage was an act of sabotage or cyber-attack? What would that mean? If it was a shot across the bow, what do we do about it? There has been talk recently of a ‘cyber-pandemic’, coming from an exercise last year put on by the WEF, called Cyber Polygon, the results of which showed the best-protected entities being financial institutions and IT. It was aimed at corporate interests protecting their cyber-security, with the implication of more and more widespread and increasing outages, attacks, ransomware attacks and so forth. Is this just scaremongering? There are real concerns, as more and more of our infrastructure becomes digitized. We just had a small taste of it with the FB outage.
However, the big concern at the moment with the general public is about security, the ability to communicate and the ability to voice our opinions and concerns, the latter being the cornerstone of democracy. What to do, then? People need to have alternatives, even if that means turning to platforms owned by foreign concerns. For the average person it makes little difference if one uses Tic Tok, Telegram or VK, at least as a standby application. In an emergency those apps may come in handy. What is important is that we can stay in contact without fear of being cut off.
The United States is about to go through some big trials about censorship, cyber-security and the like. It is already happening, and it is going to get worse. And it will get worse because of our own government policies and lack of vision. The Russians couldn’t care less about what your cats are doing, for instance, or the Chinese about your local Chinese restaurant. They do pay attention to our political discourse, what is left of it, and all governments monitor Facebook. It is just ingrained. All nations take an interest in what other nations do and think about them. Fake news seems to be more a problem in the West than in the East, anyway.
‘Fake news’ and its censorship became an issue during the 2016 US election campaign, and then became a world issue. Trump is more famously known for using the term, but Hillary Clinton used it, too, and then went on to push the Russia-gate story after her loss to Trump. In fact, Clinton was the first politician to use the term ‘fake news’ in that election. The term went viral, and has been used as a divisive tool ever since, with the tech companies now having hired ‘fact-checkers’, probably better known as ‘narrative-steerers’ to keep the establishment narratives alive and rolling on. This is what Frances Haugen and like-minded people are on about. And yes, some good will come of what they are barracking for. But it does have its darker side. Listen to Clinton tell her version of it, and then go back and look at Haugen’s testimony to Congress:
“Hillary Clinton, speaking in public Thursday for one of the first times since losing the presidential election a month ago, called the proliferation of fake news “an epidemic.”…Clinton said the spread of fake news, which has “flooded social media over the past year,” is a trend that “can have real world consequences…This is not about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk, lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days to do their jobs, contribute to their communities,” Clinton said. “It is a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly.”
Clinton backed “bipartisan legislation” that looks to give Congress more power to respond to “foreign propaganda.” an apparent reference to Russia’s [now debunked] role in funding some of the fake news, according to two studies, with the goal of influencing US politics. “It is imperative that leaders in both the private and public sector step up to protect our democracy and innocent lives,”
Clinton’s and Haugen’s messaging sound very similar in some respects.
The title of this post is a play on the Huguenot movement in France, a branch of the Protestant Reformation that aimed at posing a challenge to the Catholic orthodoxy in France. It ultimately failed as a movement and was crushed. Haugen is challenging the orthodoxy of the internet and the notions of what free speech is across platforms. And while her calls to enforce the use of algorithms in an ethical instead of purely capitalist manner are to be lauded, the influence of the government and fact-checkers needs to be closely monitored. And parents should take a more active role in what their children see on social media. A positive self-image starts at home.
Be aware in the months going forward from this and the Pandora Papers. Pandora has released some unwanted spirits from her box and they will come back to haunt us if we don’t stay on top of things. Privacy protection starts with the user. And we are the only ones who should be monitoring our content. Just be aware, too, that whatever we put on the web stays there, like, forever.
Outages will get worse. They may affect banking and a host of other services. They may affect infrastructure. Keeping enough in one’s house to make it through a few days without services is not such a bad idea, as in cash for example. You may even want to invest in a generator or solar panels, for that matter. Get a VPN, especially for when you travel. There are sites in the US that Europeans cannot access, for instance. With a VPN, you can. Use a password generator for passwords, and by all means keep them off your computer. These are just simple measures, but they can save a lot of headache in the next few years ahead. This will be especially true in the US and then by extension, across the West.
And lastly, set yourself and your family up with several communication and messaging apps, set to receive notifications. I found that quite useful with the FB outage. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, so the saying goes. Stay safe, stay smart and stay in contact. There are bumps in the road ahead, and things can, do and will go awry.
Featured pic from Lega Nerd