Facebook insider shows company “morally bankrupt”, senators say

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  • Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen on Tuesday described research that she said shows the company prioritizes profit while fueling division, undermining democracy and damaging the mental health of its younger users.
  • Facebook has pushed back on some of Haugen’s claims and challenges that research she shared on Instagram shows the app to be toxic to teens.
  • There are several legislative proposals that would address the types of harms revealed in the Facebook documents shared by Haugen.

The Facebook whistleblower who revealed internal research documenting risks to society and mental health told senators the company was aware of the problems with its platforms, but wanted Congress to think they are too difficult to solve.

Frances Haugen, 37, a former product manager at Facebook, testified to a Senate Commerce Committee panel on Tuesday, describing research that she says shows the company prioritizes profit while fueling the division, undermining democracy and harming the mental health of its youngest users. Haugen shared Facebook’s internal studies with the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as the Wall Street Journal.

“I have seen Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own benefits and our security,” Haugen said. “Facebook has systematically resolved these conflicts in favor of its own profits. The result has been more divisions, more harm, more lies, more threats and more fighting.”

Haugen described his work on the social media company’s civic disinformation team and his growing disillusionment with his willingness to address issues identified by his own employees. She urged Congress to think outside “previous regulatory frameworks” and focus on demanding greater transparency from social media platforms that have enormous power over public discourse.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the subcommittee organizing the hearing, called the Menlo Park, Calif., Based company “morally bankrupt” and said the impact of its platforms “will haunt a generation” . He sharply criticized Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for failing to take responsibility for the damage his company caused and said Zuckerberg was to appear before the committee to answer the findings of his company’s internal research.

“Facebook knows that its products can be addictive and toxic to children,” Blumenthal said. “They value their profit more than the pain they have caused children and families.”

Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the top Republican on the subcommittee, sought to identify the discrepancies between Haugen’s testimony and that of Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of security, who appeared before the same Senate panel last week. Blackburn highlighted the risks to children and how human traffickers can use Facebook’s platforms.

“Big tech companies have gotten away with abusing consumers for too long,” Blackburn said.

Facebook has pushed back on some of Haugen’s claims and challenges that research she shared on Instagram shows the app to be toxic to teens. Facebook argued that while some teens say the app makes mental health issues worse, many others say the app improves those same issues, and the company is doing the right thing by researching those issues.

Facebook has highlighted its investment in safety and security as proof that the company cares about many of its most important issues, like disinformation and combating hate speech. The company claims to have 40,000 employees working in safety and security teams and claims to have spent more than $ 13 billion on safety and security efforts since 2016.

The hearing comes the day after Facebook and its photo-sharing platform Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp experienced rare global outages, and two days after Haugen revealed his identity in an interview with “60 Minutes “from CBS. Shares of the company rebounded on Tuesday, after falling 4.9% on Monday.

There are several legislative proposals that would address the types of harms revealed in the Facebook documents shared by Haugen. Lawmakers are considering bills to increase the transparency of social media algorithms, change online platform liability protections, strengthen privacy and even dismantle the biggest tech companies.

While there is bipartisan outrage over Facebook’s alleged abuses, there has been little movement on legislation to tighten tech regulations.

– With the help of Kurt Wagner.


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