The Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security heard the testimony of the FB whistleblower Frances Haugen. She’s a former employee of the tech giant. For the first time in history, a bloc of Republicans and Dems together ask action against the company.
Haugen worked as a lead product manager for FB’s civic misinformation team, and she testified before the Senate discussing the company’s internal practices, emphasizing the ways these practices disproportionately affect children.
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“I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said.
“I believe in the potential of Facebook, and we can have social media we enjoy that connects us without tearing apart our democracy, putting our children in danger, and sowing ethnic violence around the world. We can do better.” She added.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal observed the testimony and concluded that FB put profits before people.
FB targets children, teens with an eating disorder.
A Wall Street Journal expose prompted the meeting. The conversation between Haugen and the subcommittee went deeper into the company’s practices.
The whistleblower shared that while she worked in the company, she had to choose between “its profits and our safety.”
When the conflicts appear, the company “consistently resolve[d] these conflicts in favor of its own profits.”
Blumenthal stated that he and his team created an Instagram account posing as a teenaged girl with an eating disorder in the experiment. According to him, Instagram’s algorithm quickly picked up on this and presented content glorifying and encouraging disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
He expanded on the point and added that besides their claims not to target children, FB sees children as a marketing opportunity. Younger teens and even preteens don’t have ingrained habits and can be molded by advertisers into creating new habits.
It is different with the older teens. It can take a more malicious advertisement for vaping products, which are more prevalent among these generations.
‘This is Facebook’s Big Tobacco Moment’: Blumenthal
Republicans and Democrats during the hearing supported the abandoning section 230 protections for the social media platform. Companies aren’t responsible for the content shared on those platforms. Traditional and online media companies don’t have the same protection and can be sued for the published content.
Trump supported and suggested the notion of abandoning the protections in 2020, but legislative actions didn’t follow it.
Haugen supported lawmakers to continue their actions and highlighted that the platforms’ problems couldn’t be solved only by section 230 reform.
“A company with such frightening influence over so many people needs real oversight,” she said.
Haugen concluded, “Congress can change the rules that Facebook plays by and stop the many harms it is now causing. We now know the truth about Facebook’s destructive impact … we must act now. I’m asking you, our elected representatives, to act.”
“This is Facebook’s Big Tobacco moment,” said Blumenthal.