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Facebook whistleblower studied in Boston area before embarking on career in tech

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen spoke with CBS' Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes."Robert Fortunato/Associated Press

Long before she came forward in a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night to unveil a trove of internal Facebook documents, Frances Haugen was a college student in the Boston area who helped coach the Needham High School debate team, according to her LinkedIn profile and her personal website.

Haugen, a former Facebook employee who left the company in May, turned over thousands of pages of documents to federal regulators, elected officials, and the news media to publicly reveal deceptive statements and practices by the social media giant.

Her website says Haugen was born in Iowa City and grew up “attending the Iowa caucuses with her parents, instilling a strong sense of pride in democracy and responsibility for civic participation.”


Haugen began her career in tech in 2006, after graduating from the Olin College of Engineering in Needham with a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering, according to her LinkedIn page. She later enrolled at Harvard Business School, where she earned an MBA in general management in 2011, according to her LinkedIn page.

While attending Olin, Haugen edited the college yearbook for three years and was an assistant coach for the Needham High School debate team from 2002 to 2006, according to her LinkedIn.

As a college student, Haugen seemed to embrace the sports-centric culture of Boston, even when the city’s teams were still mostly known for losing. She was interviewed for a 2003 Globe story about the reaction of young Red Sox fans following the team’s loss to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series that year.

“I’m definitely hooked,” Haugen, then 19, told the Globe. “I’ve been initiated into the Sox culture.”

Haugen’s revelations about the social media giant made national news on Sunday. The documents she released have informed a sweeping report by the Wall Street Journal dissecting everything from how Facebook has handled, or mishandled, the proliferation of misinformation on its platform to the toxic influence of Instagram on teenage girls.


Among other revelations, the documents show Facebook’s weak response when employees raised concerns about how the platform was being used by human traffickers, drug cartels and other nefarious groups around the world.

“When we live in an information environment that is full of angry, hateful, polarizing content, it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other,” Haugen told CBS’s Scott Pelley during their interview that aired Sunday night. “The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.”

Haugen started working at Facebook in June 2019, according to her LinkedIn page. Her personal website, franceshaugen.com, says she was recruited to the company as the lead product manager on the civic misinformation team and later worked on “counter-espionage.”

Prior to joining Facebook, Haugen made stops at Pinterest and Yelp and spent two stints at Google, where she worked for a total of more than seven years as a product manager and software engineer, according to her LinkedIn page.

Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.