Whistleblower Frances Haugen, 37, a former product manager on Facebook’s civic integrity team, testified at an internet safety hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and said “they [Facebook] have put their immense profits before people.”
She told senators at a Washington hearing that Facebook’s leaders know how to make their products safer but won’t, she says.
She said Facebook weakens democracy. “They have put their immense profits before people”
Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.”
Democrats and Republicans expressed their concern about Facebook in their opening remarks.
Facebook has rejected her claims, saying it has spent significant sums of money on safety.
The highly anticipated testimony comes a day after a massive Facebook outage, which saw services down for six hours and affected billions of users globally.
A big part of Haugen’s argument is that the only people who really understand Facebook’s inner workings are its employees.
“Facebook has a culture that emphasises that insularity is the path forward,” she told the members at the hearing earlier. “That if information is shared publicly, it will be misunderstood,” she says.
If you follow Haugen’s logic, this inward-looking culture is precisely why Congressional oversight of the social media giant is needed, some say.
Haugen is arguing that regulation may even make Facebook “more profitable over the long-term”.
In response to questions from Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper, Haugen says “if it wasn’t as toxic, less people could quit it” – though that isn’t something we can test.
Haugen also continued her comparisons between Facebook and the tobacco industry.
“Only about 10% of people who smoke ever get lung cancer,” she said. “So [at Facebook] there’s the idea that 20% of your users can be facing serious mental health issues and that’s not a problem.”
Haugen, whose last role at Facebook was as a product manager supporting the company’s counter-espionage team, was asked whether Facebook is used by “authoritarian or terrorist-based leaders” around the world.
She said such use of the platforms is “definitely” happening, and that Facebook is “very aware” of it.
“My team directly worked on tracking Chinese participation on the platform, surveilling, say, Uyghur populations, in places around the world. You could actually find the Chinese based on them doing these kinds of things,” Haugen said. “We also saw active participation of, say, the Iran government doing espionage on other state actors.”She went on to say that she believes, “Facebook’s consistent understaffing of the counterespionage information operations and counter terrorism teams is a national security issue, and I’m speaking to other parts of Congress about that … I have strong national security concerns about how Facebook operates today.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal suggested that these national security concerns could be the subject of a future subcommittee hearing.
Who is the whistleblower?
Frances Haugen has been testifying Tuesday.
Here’s what you need to know about the former Facebook employee taking centre stage Tuesday.
Who is she?
The 37-year-old unveiled herself on Sunday as the person behind a series of surprise leaks of internal Facebook documents.
Haugen told CBS News she had left Facebook earlier this year after becoming exasperated with the company.
She was a product manager on the civic integrity team until it was disbanded a month after the 2020 presidential election.
“Like, they basically said, ‘Oh good, we made it through the election…We can get rid of Civic Integrity now.’ Fast forward a couple months, we got the insurrection.”
Facebook’s Integrity chief has since contested this, saying it wasn’t disbanded but “integrated into a larger Central Integrity team”.
What did she do?
Before she left the company, Haugen copied a series of internal memos and documents.
She has shared them with the Wall Street Journal, which has been releasing the material in batches over the last three weeks – sometimes referred to as the Facebook Files.
Haugen says these documents prove the tech giant repeatedly prioritised “growth over safety”.
Profits over people
If there is an overall theme so far – this is it.
According to Haugen, Facebook routinely resolves conflicts between its bottom line and the safety of its users in favour of its profits.
“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 says.
The buck stops with Zuck
Throughout her remarks, Haugen has made clear that Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has wide-ranging oversight of his company and maintains ultimate control of all key decisions.
“The buck stops with Mark,” she says. “There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.”
Teen girls targeted
Senators have devoted much of their time to the harm posed by Facebook and Instagram to young people, especially teenage girls.
Several have pointed to research that suggests both sites worsen teens’ body image and promote eating disorders.
Lawmakers cited Facebook’s own data, published by the Wall Street Journal last month, which found that 32% of teen girls said that when they feel bad about their bodies, Instagram makes them feel worse.
Facebook fires back
Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications director, is pushing back live on Twitter.
He wrote that Haugen is asked about topics she did not work directly on, including child safety and Instagram.
But, as others online note, she has come armed with Facebook’s own documents to back up her testimony.