By Jon Swartz
'Their profit maximizing machine is generating self-harm and self-hate -- especially for vulnerable groups like teenage girls. These problems have been confirmed repeatedly by Facebook's own internal research,' says Haugen
Before a Senate panel on Tuesday, Facebook Inc. whistleblower Frances Haugen delivered a stinging encore to her devastating turn on "60 Minutes."
Facebook (FB) has a "a system that amplifies division, extremism, and polarization... In some cases, this dangerous online talk that has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people," she said in an opening statement early Tuesday. "Their profit maximizing machine is generating self-harm and self-hate -- especially for vulnerable groups like teenage girls. These problems have been confirmed repeatedly by Facebook's own internal research."
During a hearing on Capitol Hill, Haugen, a former Facebook product manager who worked on civic integrity issues, says documents prove the social-networking giant knows its platforms are used to spread hate, violence and misinformation, and it attempted to hide evidence.
What emerged has been a consistent theme of Facebook prioritizing profits over the safety and mental well-being of people, especially teen girls, Haugen warned.
"The company's leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won't make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people," said Haugen, who is seeking whistleblower protection in complaints filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"Facebook became a $1 trillion company by paying for its profits with our safety,including the safety of our children," she added, comparing the company to Big Tobacco. She said internal research shows Instagram is addictive to young members, and that Facebook has conducted studies on kids under 13.
"The buck stops with him [Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg]," whom she said essentially acts as algorithm setter-in-chief.
The tipping point for Haugen came on Dec. 2, 2020, she said, when Facebook disbanded the team she worked on. "They told us, 'We're dissolving Civic Integrity,' she said in an interview on "60 Minutes" on Sunday. "Like, they basically said, 'Oh good, we made it through the election. There wasn't riots. We can get rid of Civic Integrity now.' Fast forward a couple months, we got the [Jan. 6] insurrection."
"And when they got rid of Civic Integrity, it was the moment where I was like, 'I don't trust that they're willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.'"
The next day, Haugen said she reached out to a Wall Street Journal reporter, which led to a blockbuster investigation on Facebook.
In a stinging rebuke, Lena Pietsch, Facebook's director of policy communications, downplayed Haugen's credentials, and said, "We don't agree with her characterization on the many issues she testified about." Pietsch did agree that it is time to "create standard rules for the internet" and that the onus should be on Congress to act. "It's been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated," Pietsch said.
Haugen's appearance Tuesday offered a startling counterpoint to last week's testimony of Antigone Davis, Facebook's global head of safety, who was skewered by the same Senate subcommittee for the company's effect on children.
Davis offered vague excuses for the negative impact Instagram has on teenage girls and even argued it was beneficial. "This [internal] research is not a bombshell," she said, prompting admonishments from Senators, and calcifying calls for some form of regulatory oversight. The Federal Trade Commission has sought to break up Facebook with its revised antitrust lawsuit in August.
On Monday, Facebook filed a motion in federal court in Washington, D.C., to dismiss the FTC's latest lawsuit.
"The FTC's amended complaint fails to fix the deficiencies of its first attempt, and should suffer the same fate," a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement. "The FTC's fictional market ignores the competitive reality: Facebook competes vigorously with TikTok, iMessage, Twitter (TWTR), Snapchat (SNAP), LinkedIn, YouTube, and countless others to help people share, connect, communicate or simply be entertained. The FTC cannot credibly claim Facebook has monopoly power because no such power exists. We continuously innovate and improve our products and services to earn people's time and attention because we have to."
To compound Facebook's woes, a major outage disrupted service to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp for about six hours Monday.
Congress has unsuccessfully attempted to update online protections for children for more than a decade as Facebook has ballooned into a company worth $920 billion and locked up nearly every major advertiser to reach its roughly 2.9 billion monthly active users. Senate subcommittee member, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., blamed the lack of new legislation in part on lobbying efforts by Big Tech.
Klobuchar and fellow panel members Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., are on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is working on a raft of tech antitrust legislation.
In a press conference after the hearing, Blumenthal hinted that more whistleblowers like Haugen could come forward, though he offered no timeline or specifics.
Facebook shares rose 3% in trading Tuesday.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 06, 2021 08:19 ET (12:19 GMT)
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