Frances Haugen – a former product manager at Facebook – heavily criticized the company during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
She testified before a Senate subcommittee that Facebook puts “profits before people” and that Facebook knows that its products “harm children, stoke division, weaken our democracy”.
Haugen backed up these claims with tens of thousands of pages of internal Facebook research, which she previously leaked to the Wall Street Journal.
In her testimony, Haugen also pointed to Facebook’s engagement-based ranking systems, which tend to boost the content that elicits stronger reactions, including more extreme posts.
She added that, “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 also criticized Mark Zuckerberg for having wide-ranging control, saying that there is “no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.”
She urged Congress to regulate Facebook, saying that is has “repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children… and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages.”
Mark Zuckerberg defended the company, writing a letter to his staff in which he said many of the claims “don’t make any sense”. “We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health,” he said in the letter, made public on his Facebook page. “It’s difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives.”
He also added in the letter that the research into Instagram was being mischaracterized and that many young people had positive experiences of using the platform. But he said “it’s very important to me that everything we build is safe and good for kids”.
Both Republican and Democratic senators were united in the need for change at the company – a rare topic of agreement between the two political parties.
“The damage to self-interest and self-worth inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said. “Big Tech now faces the Big Tobacco jaw-dropping moment of truth,” he added, a reference to how tobacco firms hid the harmful effects of their products.
Fellow Republican Dan Sullivan said the world would look back and ask “What the hell were we thinking?” in light of the revelations about Facebook’s impact on children.
In a statement issued by Facebook after the hearing, they said that they did not agree with Haugen’s “characterization of the many issues she testified about” but they did agree that “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,” the statement read.
Sources: Huffington Post, BBC
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