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Monday, January 30, 2023

‘We now know the truth about Facebook’s destructive impact’, whistleblower says

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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen accused the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, of putting “profits over people” despite allegedly knowing that his site is harming children and societies in general around the world during Senate testimony.

She and senators at the hearing on Monday laid blame for issues stemming from the site at Mr Zuckerberg’s feet, with Ms Haugen declaring: “The buck stops with Mark. There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.”

Speaking before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, Ms Haugen stated that the American public now knows “the truth about Facebook’s destructive impact” and added, “we still have time to act, but we must act now”.

“Until the incentives change, Facebook will not change,” Ms Haugen told the subcommittee. “Left alone, Facebook will continue to make choices that go against the common good – our common good.”

Chairman Richard Blumenthal delivered stinging criticism of his own, aimed personally at the Facebook CEO, and demanded that he appear before the committee to answer questions.

“Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror, and yet rather than taking responsibility and showing leadership, Mr Zuckerberg is going sailing,” he said, adding, “Mr Zuckerberg, you need to come before this committee.”

The chairman added that the Facebook CEO’s modus operandi was “no apologies, no admission … no action, nothing to see here”.

The former Facebook employee told 60 Minutes over the weekend that the company’s own internal research says it is causing conflicts and exacerbating divisions across the world and urged Congress to act during the Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

Her remarks have opened the company up to new criticism about its data practices, ability or willingness to keep young children off its platform, and success or failure with removing hateful speech and misinformation.

The company now faces accusations that it enabled a genocide in Myanmar, amid other charges. On Tuesday, Ms Haugen noted that ethnic conflicts occurring in Ethiopia were likely impossible for the company to oversee on its own platform as a result of the country’s multiple spoken languages and persistent staffing issues at Facebook that she said led to the company being unable to address many problems on the platforms.

Facebook spokespeople have been active on Twitter rapidly firing back at Ms Haugen’s assertions by pointing out that she did not work “directly” on many of the areas about which senators questioned her on Tuesday; the company has not responded yet however to the demand from subcommittee chair Richard Blumenthal for CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify and answer the same questions.

Mr Zuckerberg himself last testified before Congress in 2019, when he appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Appearing before that committee, he faced a brutal grilling at the hands of Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who questioned Mr Zuckerberg about what the standard was for taking down political ads that contained misinformation.

During the widely panned 2019 appearance, Mr Zuckerberg appeared flustered by questions regarding whether Ms Ocasio-Cortez could pay for political ads accusing her opponents of supporting her own policies, thereby eroding their support among their own party’s base, and was unable to answer whether such ads would be removed from the platform.

Criticism about misinformation on Facebook has only grown following the deadly attack on the US Capitol and the continued prevalence of false claims regarding Covid-19 and vaccines on the platform.

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