Former Facebook manager Frances Haugen appeared before the Congressional Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security to testify about information she has regarding Facebook’s business practices that she said warrants immediate Congressional action.
Haugen testified before the U.S. Senate, following her explosive statements in the media denouncing the tech giant’s negligence that would be causing enormous damage to global society.
During an interview on Sunday, Haugen admitted that she was the one who revealed internal documents and investigations showing that Facebook knew about the harmful effects caused by its platforms, which The Wall Street Journal previously published.
In her testimony before the Senate, Haugen insisted that Facebook’s internal investigation, published by her, also exposed that its platforms amplify hate, misinformation, and political unrest. Yet, the company concealed what it knew and continued to work along the same lines.
“I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” Haugen told Senators. “We must demand Facebook make changes,” she added.
The former Facebook employee warned lawmakers that there is a close link between the social network’s activity and violence in different regions. Haugen said that the social networking platform’s algorithms facilitate hate and put profits before user safety.
According to the statement, the damage is not limited to the adverse effects caused on users, which is not minor; in the worst case, widespread misinformation on networks can lead to the development of hate-laden discourses that end up in real confrontations that could even destabilize democracies.
“My fear is that without action, divisive and extremist behaviors we see today are only the beginning. What we saw in Myanmar and now in Ethiopia are the opening chapters of a story so terrifying no one wants to read the end of it,” Haugen said.
The most serious part of the matter is that, according to the complaint, Facebook is perfectly aware of this situation and even promotes the development of certain content that can provoke extreme reactions, which lead to greater interaction on the networks, generating the growth of the platform.
“Facebook understands that if they want to continue to grow, they have to find new users. They have to make sure that the next generation is just as engaged with Instagram as the current one. And the way they will do that is by making sure that children establish habits before they have good self-regulation,” she said.
Haugen compared social media to the addiction caused by smoking. At the same time, she said that teenagers do not have good self-regulation, so they often explicitly say things like, “I don’t feel good when I use Instagram, but I can’t quit.”
Several senators from both parties hinted that they were already working on legislation to curb some of Facebook’s excesses.
A few hours after Haugen’s testimony, Facebook’s director of policy communications, Lena Pietsch, issued a public response with some criticism of the former employee but also acknowledging some of the points made.
While Pietsch said Facebook disagrees with the characterizations made by Haugen, the company agreed that it is time to create standard rules for the Internet.
“It’s been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act,” Pietsch concluded.