Facebook whistleblower hearing: ‘Facebook and big tech are facing a big tobacco moment’

Facebook whistleblower hearing: ‘Facebook and big tech are facing a big tobacco moment’0

The Facebook whistleblower who has provided a trove of internal documents to Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission is testifying about research she says proves the social network has repeatedly lied about its platform. The documents were the basis for The Wall Street Journal’s reporting on Facebook’s controversial rules for celebrities, and the disastrous effect of Instagram on some teens’ mental health.

“Facebook and big tech are facing their big tobacco moment,” committee chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal said at the start of the hearing. “Facebook knows its products can be addictive and toxic to children. They value their profit more than the pain that they cause to children and their families.”

In her opening statement, Frances Haugen, the former Facebook product manager turned whistleblower, said that the company has ignored much of its own research and is “buying its profits with our safety.” She urged Congress to adopt new regulations to limit the company’s power. “The choices being made inside of Facebook are disastrous for our children, our public safety, our privacy and for our democracy,” Haugen said. “And that is why we must demand Facebook make changes.”

She highlighted Facebook’s unwillingness to make data available outside of its own research teams has helped the company mislead the public. “The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the US government, and from governments around the world,” Haugen said. “The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems, and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages.”

She also said that Congress should not be swayed by Facebook’s insistence on “false choices,” and that simply reforming privacy laws or Section 230 would not go far enough. “We can afford nothing less than full transparency,” Haugen said. “Facebook wants you to believe that the problems we’re talking about are unsolvable… Facebook can change, but it’s clearly not going to do so on its own.”

Haugen’s appearance comes days after Facebook sent its head of safety, Antigone Davis, to testify in front of the same committee. She and other executives have repeatedly tried to downplay the company’s research, with Davis saying that the documents “were not bombshell research.” In Tuesday’s hearing, some senators called out Mark Zuckerberg, saying that they should be hearing from him instead. “Rather than taking personal responsibility, showing leadership, Mark Zuckerberg is going sailing,” Blumenthal said, in an apparent reference to a recent Facebook post from the CEO.


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