Facebook’s most recent whistleblower is scheduled to testify before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, and her testimony will likely set off another damaging cycle in the multi-year effort to regulate the platform. This time, Facebook faces an unusually damaging accusation: that the most central parts of its business – its product optimization, its content promotion algorithms, and its pursuit of advertising profits – are actively harming its most vulnerable users.
This is an alarming and specific claim, made within the company and echoed by its most eminent critics. For lawmakers, this represents the best chance in years to take meaningful regulatory action against the world’s largest social network.
On Sunday, Frances Haugen, former product manager of Facebook’s civic integrity team, was revealed to be the source of documents detailing how the company’s products can cause damage in a series of articles from the the Wall Street newspaper. A specific set of reports, suggesting that Facebook knew Instagram was ‘toxic’ to teenage users, was addressed in a hearing last Thursday, where lawmakers made it clear that Facebook’s growth hinged on its ability to integrate young users and encourage them to spend more time on its platforms.
“We now know that Facebook consistently puts profits ahead of children’s online safety,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in reports last week. “We know that she prefers the growth of her products to the well-being of our children.
Tuesday’s hearing will focus specifically on child safety, with testimony from a witness with extensive knowledge of the real harm platforms like Instagram can inflict on young users. But the narrower focus of the hearing could also give lawmakers the opportunity to explore why Facebook is making the decisions it makes when it comes to the safety of children, and even the safety of older users.
Initiated by last week’s hearing, lawmakers will insist on the conflict between Facebook’s profits and the safety of young users. On Tuesday, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said The edge she plans to ask Haugen to describe in detail the ways in which Facebook is taking advantage of the younger ones on the platform.
“Do they consider the profits they make from children in the way they market things? Klobuchar said in an interview.
This is a subject on which Haugen will have a lot to say. In her 60 minutes In interview on Sunday, Haugen said Facebook’s thirst for profit goes far beyond feeding children harmful content like that related to eating disorders. Facebook’s business is built on user engagement, and Haugen said if the company made its algorithm “safer”, users “would click fewer ads and earn less money over time.”
“What I saw on Facebook over and over again was that there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” Haugen said in his 60 minutes interview Sunday. “And Facebook, time and time again, has chosen to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”
It’s a powerful message – not just to the public, but to Facebook employees. As unique as Haugen may seem, she is part of a wave of employee activism in the tech industry. Facebook needs to show that it takes its concerns seriously, not only to appease regulators, but also to calm its own workforce.
“There was this new front that Facebook has to fight against, which is that its current and former employees are more candid in different ways about what is going on in the company,” Katie Harbath, former director of public policy at Facebook and member of the Atlantic Council and the Bipartisan Policy Center said The edge in an interview on Monday. “People want the business to do better and they want to think about and resolve these integrity issues.”
This confluence of employee indignation, outside critics and an increasingly savvy Congress has created a particularly dangerous playing field for Facebook.
“That’s the focus on the business model at the heart of it all, because that’s what ties all of these scandals together,” said Rishi Bharwani, director of partnerships and policy at Accountable Tech. The edge in an interview on Monday. “This is why Facebook is profiting and playing a pivotal role in the Rohingya genocide. This is why Facebook allows the continued spread of disinformation and COVID disinformation. This is because they take advantage of it.
Congress is already signaling its intention to continue investigating Haugen’s allegations. Last week, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the top Republican on the committee calling on Haugen to testify, said The Washington Post that she hopes to hold further investigative hearings in the coming months.
“This is an issue that we will continue to work on,” said Blackburn. The post office.
These hearings could lead to future child online safety legislation in the future. Democrats and Republicans have already started to introduce new bills in light of the Newspaper‘s recent reports. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) already rolled back his Children’s Act last week that would create new limits for developers designing apps for children. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) also released a bill that would create a new federal offense against social media companies proven to harm children.
The hearing could also prompt further investigation into Facebook itself – this time with more legal force to compel new documents and disclosures. Bharwani hopes the entire Senate Commerce Committee will launch an official congressional investigation into Facebook abuse, allowing senators to subpoena Facebook for unpublished documents related to its algorithm and its impact on the health of its users. So far, every congressional investigation into Facebook has been carried out by smaller committees without full authority to issue subpoenas, limiting findings to documents Facebook was willing to produce.
Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) office did not respond to The edge when asked if she would allow a new committee-wide investigation on Facebook in light of the Journal of report. Cantwell chairs the committee and is expected to sign an inquiry with subpoena power.
“What we are starting to see is the 2016 Cambridge Analytica scandal after scandal outbreak at the Rohingya genocide to take advantage of adolescent anxiety and depression,” Bharwani said. “These elements together have been raising the temperature on Facebook for a very long time. Now we are starting to see the water boil.
- SNL’s take on Facebook whistleblower audience will bring back fond memories from MySpace
- Facebook whistleblower to testify at US Senate hearing next week, lawmakers say
- Here is Facebook’s cowardly attempt to smear the whistleblower
- Whistleblower: Facebook is designed to make you angry
- Whistleblower says Facebook bet on profit before curbing hate speech