Facebook whistleblower: The company knows it’s harming young people – Haugen Testified Before Senate Panel

The Facebook whistleblower who released tens of thousands of pages of internal research and documents indicating the company was aware of various problems caused by its apps, including Instagram’s potential “toxic” effect on teen girls, called on Congress to take action against the social media platform in testimony before a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.

Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old former Facebook product manager who worked on civic integrity issues at the company, faced questions from a Commerce subcommittee about what Facebook-owned Instagram knew about its effects on young users, among other issues.

“I am here today because I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy,” she said during her opening remarks. “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. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

She emphasized that she came forward “at great personal risk” because she believes “we still have time to act. But we must act now.”

Urging Congress to take action

Haugen’s identity as the Facebook whistleblower was revealed on “60 Minutes” Sunday night. She previously shared a series of documents with regulators and the Wall Street Journal, which published a multi-part investigation showing that Facebook was aware of problems with its apps, including the negative effects of misinformation and the harm caused by Instagram, especially to young girls.

“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms it caused, the government took action,” she said in her opening remarks. “When we figured out cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action. And today, the government is taking action against companies that hid evidence on opioids. I implore you to do the same here.”

Following the hearing, Facebook issued a statement attempting to discredit Haugen. “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,” the statement, tweeted by spokesperson Andy Stone, read. “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.”

Facebook is no stranger to scandals, and it’s not the first time the company has been the subject of Congressional hearings. Nor is it the first time Facebook’s public image has been shaken by a whistleblower. But Haugen’s documents and upcoming testimony come amid broader scrutiny of Facebook’s power and data privacy practices, and have already

spurred bipartisan criticism of the company’s influence on children. It remains to be seen, however, if it will create momentum for any meaningful regulation.

From outage to outrage
The testimony came after a tumultuous day for the company. Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went down for about six hours on Monday.

In her testimony, Haugen said, “Yesterday, we saw Facebook get taken off the internet. I don’t know why it went down, but I know that for more than 5 hours Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies, and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies.”

She added: “It also means that millions of small businesses weren’t able to reach potential customers and countless photos of new babies weren’t joyously celebrated by family and friends around the world. I believe in the potential of Facebook. We can have social media we enjoy, that connects us, without tearing apart our democracy, putting our children in danger and sowing ethnic violence across the world. We can do better.”

Beyond the documents, there’s also the power of Haugen’s personal backstory. She started at Facebook in 2019 after previously working for other prominent tech companies including Google (GOOG) and Pinterest (PINS). She spoke with the Wall Street Journal about losing a friendship due to online misinformation and how it impacted the way she thinks about social media. She also told the publication her goal in speaking out isn’t to bring down Facebook but to “save it.”

About a month ago, Haugen reportedly filed at least eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that the company is hiding research about its shortcomings from investors and the public. She also shared the documents with regulators and the Journal, which published a multi-part investigation showing that Facebook was aware of problems with its apps, including the negative effects of misinformation and the harm caused by Instagram, especially to young girls.

Facebook issues will ‘haunt a generation,’ Senator says

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, expressed “heartfelt gratitude” to Haugen for “standing up to one of the most powerful, implacable corporate giants in the history of the world.”

He added: “The damage to self-interest and self-worth inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation.”

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