In more than three hours of riveting testimony, a former Facebook manager tore into the now embattled social networking giant, blaming its “metrics” driven culture for hurting children, fueling hate, and walking away from ethical considerations because profits come first.
Frances Haugen, testifying to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, presented a wide-ranging condemnation of Facebook, saying she believes stricter government oversight could alleviate the dangers the company poses, from harming children to inciting political violence to fuel misinformation.
Haugen accused Facebook of intentionally walking away from fixing its broken algorithms that fuel some of the worst effects of addictive social media apps.
She accused the company of failing to make changes to Instagram after internal research showed apparent harm to some teens and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation. Haugen’s accusations were buttressed by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit.
But she also offered thoughtful ideas about how Facebook’s social media platforms could be made safer. Haugen laid responsibility for the company’s profits-over-safety strategy right at the top, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but she also expressed empathy for Facebook’s dilemma.
Haugen claims Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg knew about internal research showing potential negative impacts of Instagram.
“The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the US government, and from governments around the world,” she said.
“Congressional action is needed,” she said. “They won’t solve this crisis without your help,” she told Congress. “Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said.
“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 said Facebook wants to “trick” the public into thinking that privacy protections or changes to Section 230 alone will be sufficient. “While important, these will not get to the core of the issue, which is that no one truly understands the destructive choices made by Facebook, except Facebook.”
Haugen’s most compelling arguments came in connection with how Facebook manipulates algorithms to keep kids hooked to its platform.
“The buck stops with Mark (Zuckerberg),” Haugen confirmed, in the context of current Facebook staffers dancing around the details of who takes the big calls at Facebook.
Zuckerberg, she explained, controls more than 50 percent of Facebook’s voting shares. “There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.”
Haugen, who says she joined the company in 2019 because “Facebook has the potential to bring out the best in us,” said she didn’t leak internal documents to a newspaper and then come before Congress in order to destroy the company or call for its breakup, as many consumer advocates and lawmakers of both parties have called for.
Haugen is a 37-year-old data expert from Iowa with a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in business from Harvard. Prior to being recruited by Facebook, she worked for 15 years at tech companies including Google, Pinterest, and Yelp.
(With inputs from agencies)