Recall a former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, who was recently revealed as the woman who anonymously filed complaints with federal law enforcement against Facebook has broken her silence. Frances Haugen shares details on how Facebook has been a source of harm to young people’s mental health. Frances Haugen who was a product manager who worked at Facebook for two years before leaving in May raised so many concerns in a “60 Minutes” interview about Facebook practices.”
She recalls how Facebook has consistently prioritized profits over its users’ safety. In her meeting with the Senate Commerce consumer protection, product safety, and data security subcommittee which happens to be her first appearance, Frances Haugen passes testimonies of how social media giant Facebook has continually misled the public and how the senate committee needed to create laid down guidelines. According to Wall Street Journal, her testimony describes how the company’s rules favor elites; how its algorithms foster discord; and how drug cartels and human traffickers use its services openly. Haugen said “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people,” she added. “Congressional action is needed.”
Haugen raised concerns on the extent of misinformation by Facebook, especially in non-English-speaking countries where the company has not invested so much in moderating content. Haugen has asked lawmakers to come up with immediate regulations regarding Facebook. She has also called on lawmakers to “break out of previous regulatory frames.” She warned lawmakers that some of the most widely debated proposals, including privacy protections or tweaks to Section 230, a decades-old law that protects companies from lawsuits over what users post, would be insufficient. It is well known for years now that lawmakers have publicly called for regulation of social media but have completely failed to pass guidelines that would force greater transparency of social media giants. As Tuesday’s hearing lawmakers were collectively outraged over Haugen’s allegations, there is little consensus about exactly what kind of legislation they need to advance.
At the hearing, Haugen compares Facebook and a number of industries that the government has made consumer protection mandatory. These industries include car manufacturers, tobacco companies, and opioid makers. Haugen cautioned that on the grounds that some of Facebook’s challenges appear unique, policymakers don’t have an idea of how the organization functions. She said “This inability to see into Facebook’s actual systems and confirm they work as communicated is like the Department of Transportation regulating cars by only watching them drive down the highway.”
While the hearing lasted, Haugen used her knowledge of Facebook to explain how the algorithms run, her explanation using layman’s terms gave the lawmakers a clear understanding of how it works. Based on these explanations rather than have Lawmakers debate non-essential issues such as speech online, privacy issues, or who should be banned from the platforms or not, lawmakers had an understanding of how Facebook’s style of constantly tweaking algorithms to amply problematic content over non-problematic ones could amount to issues of great concern. That’s far more sophisticated than the kinds of questions lawmakers have previously asked about Facebook. Haugen’s discussion also touched on what lawmakers could do going forward.
The large number of documents presented by Haugen to lawmakers likely shows that this is just a scratch on the surface and there might be many more to come. In her testimony to congress, she pleaded that the lawmakers request more documents and internal research from Facebook. She started doing this will show Congress transparency to understand the steps to take in eventually regulating social media.
Lawmakers have cited the issues brought to light by Facebook’s former employee, the Republican and Democratic lawmakers have joined voices and have resolved to take drastic actions to stop the harms caused by Facebook on teenagers mental health. Haugen suggested these lawmakers take steps towards increasing the minimum age for teenagers who make use of social media. Haugen suggested 17 years instead of 13 years which is recognized.
Haugen also hinted that there was more to come from her. During the hearing, she mentioned that she was speaking to a separate congressional committee on how Facebook has understaffed critical security teams that monitor whether countries were using the platform to spy on one another and run disinformation campaigns. She said the company was failing to adequately protect against threats emerging from China, Iran, Russia, and other countries.
Lena Pietsch, a spokesperson representing Facebook in her response has agreed with the great need for lawmakers to review rules to level tech companies. She however disagreed with other issues raised by Facebook’s former employee. Pietsch said “Today, a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives — and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question. We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about. Despite all this, we agree on one thing; it’s time to begin 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.”