Whistleblower to Senate: Don't trust Facebook

Haugen stated that he has strong concerns about the operation of Facebook today.
Haugen's second message: Washington must take action.

Haugen stated that he was here because he believes Facebook's products harm children and stoke division. This statement came two days after he made the public announcement in a 60 Minutes interview. "The company's leadership is well-aware of how to make Facebook safer and Instagram more secure, but they won't make necessary changes as they have placed their enormous profits above the people. Congress must act. Without your support, they won't be able to solve the crisis."

The Senate hearing is three weeks after The Wall Street Journal published stories based upon troves of documents that Haugen gathered. He has also provided information for the Securities and Exchange Commission. The disclosures include the revelation that Instagram researchers, which Facebook controls, knew that their app was causing teens' mental and body problems, even though the company downplayed these effects publicly.

Haugen worked for nearly two years as a product manager in Facebook's Civic Integrity group, where she was responsible for preventing election interference and misinformation. In April, she resigned and officially left Facebook in May. She also took thousands of pages from internal documents.

Facebook claims that Haugen's disclosures were mischaracterized by media coverage. Company spokesperson Andy Stone stated Tuesday that Haugen is not an expert on the topic she's testifying.

Stone tweeted, "Just pointing out that @FrancesHaugen didn't work on child safety or Instagram research and did not have direct knowledge of this topic through her work at Facebook."

These are the highlights from Haugens testimony to the Senate Commerce consumer protection Subcommittee.

Whistleblower: "Facebook hasn't earned our trust"

Haugen stated that the Facebook "crisis” requires Washington to take action.

She also urged lawmakers not to trust the public assurances Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives give about the secrets of the company's algorithms.

"Facebook wants you to believe that privacy protections and changes to Section230 will suffice," Haugen stated. Haugen was referring to a 1996 liability statute that protects large tech companies from numerous lawsuits over content choices. These are important but they won't get to the heart of the problem, which is that Facebook alone understands the devastation caused by its decisions. Full transparency is what we can afford.

Haugen will tell you a lot more

Haugen will testify before the U.K. Parliament in the coming weeks. Her remarks Tuesday suggest that she is communicating with other bodies in Congress.

She didn't specify to whom in Congress she was speaking. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D.Calif.), had stated Monday that the congressional panel investigating Jan. 6's assault on Capitol should hear from Haugen about Facebooks decision to disband its civic integrity team and turn off certain safeguards following the 2020 presidential election.

Haugen claimed that two of his actions were responsible for January's insurrection, an assertion that Nick Clegg (Facebook's vice president for global affairs) has called "ludicrous."

Schiff posted on Twitter that the Select Committee would need to hear from her and obtain information from Facebook to clarify their role.

Facebook responds and dismisses Haugens credibility

After the three-hour-long hearing, Facebook asked Haugen about his qualifications to speak on certain issues. This included the company's research, policies, and practices around children.

"Today, a Senate Commerce Subcommittee held an hearing with a former product manger at Facebook, who had worked for the company less than two years and never attended a decision point meeting with C-level executives. She also testified more than six instances that she was not working on the subject matter," stated Lena Pietsch (Facebook's director for policy communications). We disagree with her description of the many issues she testedify about.

Facebook's dismissal of Haugen is its strongest criticism of the former employee. He claimed that Facebook prioritized profits over the public interest.

Haugen repeatedly admitted that she did not work directly on children's issues while at Facebook. This was what was intended to be the focus of Tuesday's hearing held by the Senate Commerce consumer protection committee. Haugen stated that many of the documents she obtained from Facebook were accessible on all platforms to all employees.

She said that she did not directly work on children's issues. This was in response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R.Texas) about whether Facebook had held discussions on how to handle internal research regarding Instagrams impact on teens. These documents were only available to employees, so I'm not aware.

Pietsch stated that Facebook had reached an agreement with Haugen regarding the need for "standard rules for the internet". ... It is not fair to expect the industry to make decisions for society that are within their authority, but Congress must act."

Tuesday's hearing heard that Haugen was qualified to talk about the things she saw and learned at Facebook.

Today's important point is how persuasive and eloquent Frances Haugen was to every member of our committee. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said this in a briefing afterwards. Today, Congress has been captivated by her story and it is a significant influence on how we view Big Tech.

Klobuchar: Silicon Valley lobbyists keep lawmakers from reining them in

Sen. Amy Klobuchar stated during the hearing that Congress has not done anything to address the Facebook problems because of the strong lobbying efforts by the tech industry.

Klobuchar (D-Minn.), in comments while questioning Haugen said that she agreed with the whistleblower's conclusion about privacy legislation not going far enough to address concerns regarding Facebooks engagement and the recruitment of preteens to its platform.

"We have not done anything in this country to update our privacy laws, our federal privacy laws nothing zilch in any major manner," stated Klobuchar, who is chair of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee and working on antitrust legislation. "Why?" Because the tech industry has hired lobbyists at every corner of this building.

She continued that we have not done anything to make the algorithms transparenter, and added that company's opaqueness has prevented independent research into the social platform. Why? Why? Because Facebook and other tech companies are spending a lot of money in this area and people are paying attention.

Later, the senator told POLITICO it was like playing whack-amole. She said that every time she thinks she has something accomplished, another lobbyist appears. She said that Facebook has hired so many people in the town.

She said that the consolidation of the tech industry allows the dominant platforms to manage all this like the bullies in your neighborhood, and prevents bells from being put in effect.

Klobuchar stated later that she hoped Haugens testimony would inspire change.

She said that she hoped that this would be the catalyst for action because there are many fronts we need to take action.

Klobuchar's request for a legislative solution was reiterated by other senators. Senator Ed Markey (D.Mass.) made these remarks. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) promised Zuckerburg that Congress would address these issues and take action against Facebook.

He said that the time for invading privacy and promoting toxic content and preying upon children and teenagers is now over.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) Klobuchar's concerns regarding lobbying were echoed by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)

He said that he doesn't believe there is a stronger interest group than them. Their reach extends beyond the borders of this country. It extends beyond academia to the think tank community on both sides. They have been extremely strategic in their approach and are very influential.

Thune: Perhaps it's time for social media companies to be 'broke up'

Republican Senator John Thune stated that he believes it's now time for Congress overhaul antitrust laws in order to limit Silicon Valley's power. These are his strongest comments on the subject to date.

Thune (S.D. Thune (S.D. Reporters on the sidelines were told by Senator 2 Republican that the company had "enormous market power" as well as a "monopoly status."

Thune stated that transparency and accountability are important parts of this. Then, Congress should examine the larger issue of antitrust and determine if there is need for change.

Thune said, "If you have Instagram and Facebook, that's an enormous amount market power. It monopoly status and I think that's something Congress should get on top."

Thune, who is a key senatorial member, highlighted that the Senate Judiciary Committee has primary antitrust jurisdiction. Thune has been vocal about the need to reform tech, but he has never previously mentioned antitrust as a possible solution to his concerns regarding social media companies.

A bipartisan group is currently negotiating companion legislation to the House antitrust package, which was passed by the House Judiciary Committee earlier in this year. Klobuchar will discuss the legislation with Chuck Grassley, a ranking member of Senate Judiciary Committee (Republican-Iowa). Thune's support could greatly accelerate the process of coming up with bipartisan antitrust tweaks.

Thune, however, declined to answer questions about whether he would support such an effort. He acknowledged that he was aware of Klobuchar’s antitrust efforts and stated that he is open to learning more.

Blumenthal: "Facebook, big tech and big tobacco are facing a big tobacco moment."

Blumenthal used a "striking parallel" between Facebook and large tobacco companies to say that the social media company faces "a moment for reckoning."

He said, "They valued their profits more than the pain they caused to their children and their families."

Haugen was also praised by him for her courage and strength of character in coming forward.

He said, "You have a convincing, credible voice, which has been heard before, but you're not alone." "You have evidence and documents. You speak volumes about Facebook's profit-oriented approach to people.

Markey agreed with that sentiment and told Haugen, "You are an American hero of the 21st century."

Whistleblower: Facebook's inability to retain and recruit employees is a reason for concern

Haugen claimed that Facebook has difficulty hiring and maintaining enough employees to combat harmful content.

She said that Facebook has had a difficult time retaining and recruiting the right number of employees to handle the vast array of projects it is able to undertake. Facebook is stuck in a cycle of understaffing, which leads to scandals and makes it more difficult to hire.

Haugens claims are unusual as Facebook is one of the most wealthy companies in the world and has tens of thousand of employees. According to the company, it has increased hiring for major events such as the 2020 election cycle or the Covid-19 pandemic which brought about security threats and misinformation on the social network, and has also boasted that they have increased their staffing levels.

Cantwell asks if Facebook has committed "advertising fraud"

Maria Cantwell, Sen. Maria Cantwell, questioned Facebook's "advertising fraud" and offered misleading assurances about how it handles hate speech. This opens up the possibility of another legal risk arising from Haugen’s revelations.

Cantwell (D-Wash.), while questioning Haugen, suggested that Facebook might not have misled investors as described in Haugen’s whistleblower complaints to Securities and Exchange Commission. He also said that it could have misled parties who tried to buy ads on Facebook.

Are we also discussing advertising fraud? Are you trying to sell advertisers something that isn't really what they are getting? Cantwell raised the question of whether Facebook's handling of content was based upon a different model from what was presented to advertisers.

Haugen replied that there are many examples in which Facebook claimed to advertisers that it was making every effort to make this safer.

This was false. Haugen said that they get between 3 and 5 percent of hate speech.

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request to comment on Cantwell’s remarks.

Facebook shouldn't get a free pass: Haugen calls on Section 230 to be amended

Haugen stated that Section 230 should be changed to reduce the dangers Facebook faces.

The debates over whether social media companies should have a greater control over the content posted on their platforms are still centered on Section 230. This 1996 statute protects internet platforms from legal liability. Both the President and Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, and ex-President Donald Trump, called for the repeal or revision of this provision.

However, there are major differences between the parties. While Democrats argue that platforms use Section 230 for misinformation, Republicans argue that platforms use the legal shield to censor conservative content.

Haugen suggested that companies should be held accountable for their algorithms, rather than being held liable for user posts.

Haugen stated that tech companies have very little control over user-generated material, which makes it harder to amend Section 230. However, they do have 100 percent control of their algorithms and Facebook should not be allowed to give up on the choices it makes regarding growth, virality, and reactiveness, rather than putting public safety first.

She said, "They're paying for our safety right now with their profits."

Zuckerberg had earlier this year proposed a specific approach for changing the statute. However, the pitch was rejected by lawmakers from both sides.

Blumenthal insists that Zuckerburg be testedified

Blumenthal demanded that Zuckerberg also testify before Congress regarding the internal research Haugen made public.

Frances Haugen and the rest of the world and parents of America need to know what you're doing. Blumenthal described the CEOs strategy to be no apologies or admissions, but action and nothing to see.

Mark Zuckerberg should be looking in the mirror and seeing himself today. But, rather than showing leadership and taking responsibility, Zuckerberg is sailing, the senator stated in his opening statements. (Zuckerberg had uploaded footage from a weekend sailing trip.

In an interview outside of the hearing room, Senator Roger Wicker, Mississippi's top Republican, stated that he agreed that Zuckerberg should testify. He stated that there is a "bipartisan consensus on this point" within the committee.

Blumenthal also asked Haugen if Zuckerberg was the one who made the decision to delay plans for a kid-version Instagram last week. This question was not answered by Facebook's global head, safety at Facebook's Senate hearing last week.

Haugen stated that there aren't any other powerful companies as wie Zuckerberg controls Facebook. "And in the end, the buck stops at Mark."

Blackburn: Facebook has "gotten away with abusing customers for far too long"

Senator Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee's top Republican on the subcommittee, claimed that Facebook has been able to abuse consumers for too long.

The senator specifically mentioned Facebook's interest in preteens, saying that they were running out of teenagers to add to Instagram. He also stated that Facebook was studying younger children to market to them.

Facebook claims that children under 13 cannot use Instagram or Facebook, but we know they are there. Facebook recently deleted 600,000. Blackburn said that it is difficult to get so many accounts from underage users if you don't turn your back on them.

Blackburn said that Facebook ignores the blatant human abuse taking place on its platform like trafficking, forced labour, cartels, echoing another Haugens allegation. Facebook's response to such behavior was also weak.

We will hold Zuckerberg and his company accountable by shining a spotlight on their conduct.