Whistleblower denounces Facebook’s “free pass” for bad behavior

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Facebook Inc. is well aware of the societal and mental health risks posed by its platforms, but wants lawmakers to think the issues are too hard to solve, according to a company whistleblower.

Francoise Haugen, 37, a former product manager at Facebook, testified before a panel of the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday, describing research that she said showed the company was prioritizing profit while fueling the division, undermining the democracy and damaging 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.”

The hearing provided a more complete picture of Facebook’s future vulnerabilities as Congress and regulators increase oversight of the company. Haugen said she was “talking to other parts of Congress” about Facebook posing a national security risk as senators called for new regulations on the social media company and urged the government to investigate the potential securities fraud and deceptive practices against consumers.

Five takeaways from the Facebook whistleblower hearing: TOPLive

Several senators have said they support the issuance of subpoenas for additional Facebook documents as part of a congressional investigation.

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 employees. She urged Congress to move away from “previous regulatory frameworks” and focus on demanding greater transparency from social media platforms that influence public discourse.

“Addictive and toxic”

Senator Richard blumenthal, the 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 the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg for failing to take responsibility for the damages caused by his business and said Zuckerberg was due to appear before the committee.

“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 highlighted its investment in safety and security as proof the company cares about disinformation, tackling hate speech and other issues. The company said it has 40,000 employees working in safety and security teams and has spent more than $ 13 billion on safety and security efforts since 2016.

After the hearing, Facebook said Haugen never attended a decision-making meeting with Facebook’s top executives and frequently told lawmakers she was not working on the questions they asked. The company’s statement on Tuesday did not address internal documents made public by Haugen.

“We don’t agree with her description of the many issues she has testified to,” Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s director of political communications, said in a statement. “We agree on one thing. It’s time to start creating standard rules for the Internet.

The hearing came the day after Facebook’s rare experience with its Instagram photo-sharing platform and WhatsApp messaging service. global outages, and two days after Haugen revealed his identity in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”. After falling 4.9% on Monday, the company’s shares rose 2.6% on Tuesday, as Haugen testified.

‘Free admission’

There are several legislative proposals that would address the types of harms revealed in the Facebook documents leaked by Haugen. Lawmakers are considering bills to increase the transparency of social media algorithms, change online platform liability protections, boost 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. Several senators have touted their own proposals and asked for Haugen’s opinion on how best to resolve the issues revealed by his wealth of documents.

Haugen has repeatedly warned that “engagement-based ranking” – serving content to users who are more likely to elicit a reaction – is why some of the most harmful posts reach more people. She said Congress should focus on legislation to hold companies accountable for how their own systems, driven by algorithms, disseminate this information.

“They have 100% control over the algorithms,” she said. “Facebook shouldn’t be getting a free pass for this.”

A better model for viewing content would be chronological “with a little bit of spam demotion,” Haugen said, with more decisions made by humans and less by computers.

Many of the senators’ questions focused on the impact of Facebook’s platforms on young people, including announcement last week he would halt work on an Instagram product designed for kids. While this is not Haugen’s area of ​​expertise within the company, she said documents she shared with Congress showed that Facebook identified young people as a necessary growth opportunity as the engagement is lagging behind in this demographic, and she’d be surprised if the company removed Instagram Kids. absolutely.

“They need to make sure the next generation is just as engaged with Instagram as the current generation and the way they will do that is to make sure kids are building habits before they have good self-regulation,” he said. she declared.

Senator Ed markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, told reporters he believes the committee should issue a bipartisan subpoena for more Facebook documents in order for Congress to build on the allegations shared at the hearing.

“This is my message to Mark Zuckerberg: your time of invading privacy, promoting toxic content and preying on children and teens is over,” Markey said. “Congress will take action. You can work with us or not work with us, but we will no longer allow your business to harm our children, our families and our democracies. “

–With the help of Kurt wagner.

To contact journalists on this story:
Anna edgerton in Washington at [email protected];
Rebecca Kern in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Sara forden at [email protected];
Jillian ward at [email protected]

David McLaughlin, Andrew Pollack

© 2021 Bloomberg LP All rights reserved. Used with permission.



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