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'Facebook needs real oversight,' whistleblower tells US Congress

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen arrives to testify during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing entitled 'Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from a Facebook Whistleblower' on Capitol Hill, October 5, 2021. (Photo by Reauters)

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has revealed to lawmakers at the congressional subcommittee how the social media giant pushed for higher profits while being cavalier about user safety.

Haugen’s testimony in Congress came after her shocking revelations in a "60 Minutes" interview which was aired on Sunday, and a worldwide Facebook outage on Monday. 

The former Facebook product manager testified in Congress on Tuesday against the firm in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation's subcommittee for consumer protection, product safety and data security, warning lawmakers that the American social media platform operated without proper oversight.

She urged Congress to hold the tech giant accountable for the harm it inflicted on children and its refusal to properly police its content.

“Facebook should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth and virality and reactiveness over public safety. They shouldn’t get a free pass on that because they're paying for their profits right now with our safety,” she said on Tuesday. 

Following an hours-long outage on Monday, Haugen testified that "for more than five hours Facebook wasn't used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies."

“A company with control over our deepest thoughts, feelings and behaviors needs real oversight,” she pled to lawmakers in written testimony.

Haugen warned that Facebook is an “urgent threat,” “accountable to no one.”

She issued a call to action from Congress to make social media safer, telling lawmakers that Facebook would change its policies only if it is forced by new regulations to do so.

The Senate hearing entitled 'Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from a Facebook Whistleblower' was Haugen’s second public appearance after identifying herself as the person who leaked thousands of pages of internal company research to the Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC], as well as the Wall Street Journal,  shedding light on the dark and murky business of the social media giant.

Haugen, who worked at Google and Pinterest before joining Facebook in 2019, told media that she was motivated to go public because she viewed Facebook in its current form as “dangerous.” 

 "I don't trust that they're willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous," said Haugen, who left Facebook in May.

"Today, no regulator has a menu of solutions for how to fix Facebook, because Facebook didn't want them to know enough about what's causing the problems. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been need for a whistleblower," she told the Senate committee.

By disclosing tens of thousands of Facebook's internal documents, Haugen alleged that the company was ignoring research proving the platform amplified "angry, polarizing, [and] divisive content" that can put public safety at risk. She also lodged a complaint to the SEC, complaining that Facebook had misled investors "to prioritize growth over safety."

Facebook 'faces jawdropping moment of truth': Senator 

Meanwhile, US Senate Commerce subcommittee chair Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said Facebook knew that its products were addictive, like cigarettes. "Tech now faces that big tobacco jawdropping moment of truth," he said, according to Reuters

He asked Zuckerberg to testify before the Senate committee, and for the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook.

"Our children are the ones who are victims. Teens today looking in the mirror feel doubt and insecurity. Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror," Blumenthal said, adding that Zuckerberg instead was going sailing.

Senators praised Haugen for coming forward. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called her a “21st-century hero.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said Haugen will be the “catalyst” for Congress to take action on proposals that have been stalled for years. 

“Thank you so much Ms. Haugen, for shedding a light on how Facebook time and time again has put profit over people. When their own research found that more than 13 percent of teen girls say that Instagram made their thoughts of suicide worse, what did they do? They proposed Instagram for kids,” Klobuchar said. 

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the ranking member of the committee, denounced Facebook for not removing underaged accounts. 

“While Facebook says that kids below 13 are not allowed on Facebook or Instagram, we know that they are there – Facebook said they deleted 600,000 accounts recently from kids under 13. How do you get that many underage accounts if you aren’t turning a blind eye to them in the first place?” she said. 

Meanwhile, Facebook called many of Haugen's claims as being "misleading." "We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true," Facebook spokesperson Lena Pietsch said following the "60 Minutes" interview.

In response to numerous researches suggesting social media platforms were negatively impacting teens' mental health, Facebook CEO Zuckerberg claimed the studies were “inconclusive.”

 


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