Facebook whistleblower says congressional social network is “accountable to no one”

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen argued at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that Congress should demand more transparency from the social media giant.

“I believe Facebook’s products harm children, fuel division, weaken our democracy and more,” she told the Senate Trade Subcommittee on Consumer Protection.

Haugen, 37, former product manager of Facebook’s civic disinformation team, said effective Facebook regulation should start with transparency, including allowing “full access to data for research not directed by Facebook “.

Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: A Facebook Whistleblower Testimony” on Capitol Hill on October 5, 2021 .Jabin Botsford / Pool via Getty Images

The audience largely focused on the company’s impact on children and the protection of children who use online platforms. Senators’ questions indicated a bipartisan agreement that the content teens see is problematic and additional regulations are needed.

The top Republican on the subcommittee, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, said Facebook was turning a blind eye to children on its sites. “It’s clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users.”

Strong points

  • Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee about what she says are issues within the social media company that “harm children” and “fuel division.”
  • The hearing comes a day after a global Facebook outage, which was unrelated to Haugen showing up to share internal company documents.
  • Senators were in bipartisan agreement that Facebook does not protect children and teens on the platform and that more regulations are needed.
  • Haugen said Facebook put safeguards in place ahead of the 2020 election, but then turned them off. But the January 6 riot at the United States Capitol led Facebook to “break the window” and turn them back on.

On Monday, Facebook experienced a massive outage that took down the social media giant’s platforms for users around the world.

Haugen said in his opening statement: “I don’t know why it went down. I know that for more than five hours Facebook was not used to deepen divisions, destabilize democracies and ensure that young girls and women feel bad in their bodies. “

Haugen argued that allowing outside entities to view Facebook’s data would help combat much of the problems created by the social platform. External researchers would enable regulators to develop “sensible rules and standards to address consumer harm, illegal content, data protection, anti-competitive practices, algorithmic systems and more,” he said. she declared.

“As long as Facebook is operating in the dark, it is not accountable to anyone,” she said. Haugen previously worked at Google, Pinterest, and Yelp.

Facebook needs an opportunity for Congress to step in and for them to declare “moral bankruptcy,” Haugen said.

“We have financial bankruptcy because we value people’s lives more than money. Facebook is stuck in a feedback loop that they can’t get out of. Hide this information because they feel trapped. They have to admit that they did something wrong and they have to help solve these problems. That is what moral bankruptcy is, “she said.

Haugen will also compare Facebook to Big Tobacco and the drug companies that make opioids.

“When we realized that the tobacco companies were hiding the damage they were causing, the government took action,” she said. “When we realized that cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action. And today the government is taking action against companies that have hidden evidence on opioids. I implore you to do the same here. “

“Facebook says one thing and does another,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Said at the hearing. “Facebook platforms are not safe for young people, like you said,” he said, referring to Haugen. “Facebook is like Big Tobacco, enticing kids with that first cigarette.”

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed her identity and expressed her opinion in an interview with Scott Pelley on October 3, 2021.Robert Fortunato for CBS News / 60 Minutes

Tuesday’s hearing and a week last in which senators questioned Facebook security chief Antigone Davis were called after the Wall Street Journal reported a leak of internal research that appeared to identify the negative effects of Instagram on the mental health of children and adolescents.

“The recent revelations about Facebook’s effects on children’s mental health and its intention to target a younger audience are indeed disturbing,” Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Said at the start of the hearing Tuesday.

Facebook said the Journal misinterpreted the results, according to a blog post published 12 days after the article was published.

Ahead of last week’s hearing, Facebook said it would be halting development of a children’s version of Instagram following growing criticism from child safety groups and lawmakers.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone dismissed Haugen’s knowledge of the child safety issue in a statement Tuesday.

Huagen “has not worked on child safety or on Instagram or researched these issues and has no direct knowledge of the subject matter of his work on Facebook,” Stone said. in a tweet that the hearing was in progress.

Haugen also spoke about the actions taken by the platform around January 6, the day of the riot at the United States Capitol.

“Facebook focused on a false choice. They said the safeguards had been put in place [ahead of the 2020 election] freedom of expression in question. But the choices that were happening on the platform were about how responsive and responsive the platform was, how viral the platform was, ”Huagen said.

Facebook changed the default security settings in the run-up to the election, she said, “because they knew they were dangerous and then reverted them to their original defaults. They have must have broken the glass on January 6th and turned them back on, and I think that’s deeply problematic. “

When asked by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., Whether the Facebook break-up would solve one of the issues discussed at the hearing, Haugen responded that she was against the platform break-up.

“If you separate Facebook and Instagram, it is likely that most of the advertising dollars will go to Instagram and Facebook will continue to be that life-threatening Frankenstein around the world. Now there will be no more money. to fund it, ”Haugen said.

“So I think oversight, regulatory oversight and finding solutions with Congress will be essential because these systems will continue to exist and be dangerous even if they are broken.”

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