After a Monday to forget, the last few hours haven’t exactly been a party for Facebook. The company led by Mark Zuckerberg received more fire during the U.S. Senate hearing that featured Frances Haugen. This is the former employee who leaked information to The Wall Street Journal about how the social network operates.
Haugen had already been seen publicly on Sunday, in a television interview with the program 60 Minutes. There he spoke about the dangers of Facebook and Instagram and their impact on teenagers, and how the company behind both platforms is willing to do anything to make more money.
In his presentation to the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security subcommittee. of the US Senate, Frances Haugen ratified what she had already mentioned publicly. But she also answered questions from lawmakers, who in turn did not miss the opportunity to whip Facebook.
In her opening statement (which you can read in full here), the former Facebook Product Manager went straight to the bone, and unloaded heavy artillery against Mark Zuckerberg and company:
My name is Frances Haugen. I used to work at Facebook. I joined Facebook because I believe it has the potential to bring out the best in us. But I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, fuel division, and weaken our democracy. Those who run the company know how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but they won’t make the necessary changes because they’ve put their astronomical profits ahead of people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.
Some of Frances Haugen’s most notable quotes.
“The documents I have provided to Congress show that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the effectiveness of its artificial intelligence systems, and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages. “We can afford nothing less than full transparency. “We can’t afford anything less than full transparency. Facebook wants you to believe that the problems we’re talking about are unsolvable. Facebook can change, but it clearly won’t do it on its own. “Companies have 100% control over their algorithms, and Facebook shouldn’t have a ‘free pass’ on what it does to prioritize growth, virality, and reactivity over public safety. “A lot of what I’m advocating for is about changing the mechanisms of amplification, not picking winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas. […] The changes I’m talking about today wouldn’t make Facebook an unprofitable company. It just wouldn’t be a ridiculously unprofitable company.””I don’t think Facebook, with its current structural, has the ability to stop vaccine misinformation, because it’s too reliant on artificial intelligence systems that, by their own admission, will never catch more than 10 to 20 percent of the content.”
Frances Haugen’s presentation was quite lengthy, and many of her concepts were repeated in the face of Senators’ queries. The legislators also took the opportunity to to promote their bills on privacy and protection of minors on the Internet. They also used the whistleblower’s statements to contrast them with those of Antigone Davies. It is worth noting that Facebook’s Global Head of Security was part of last week’s hearing.
What did Facebook say about the hearing?
During Frances Haugen’s deposition, some Facebook executives took to Twitter to counter her remarks. One of them was Andy Stone, in charge of communications for the social network; in several publications he referred that the whistleblower did not work on several of the issues discussed at the hearing. (which, in fact, Haugen herself also did in the face of certain queries).
“Just pointing out the fact that Frances Haugen did not work in child safety, did not work at Instagram, did not investigate these issues, and has no direct knowledge of the issue from her work at Facebook,” she said in a tweet.
Just pointing out the fact that @FrancesHaugen did not work on child safety or Instagram or research these issues and has no direct knowledge of the topic from her work at Facebook.
– Andy Stone (@andymstone) October 5, 2021
A statement from Lena Pietsch, Director of Policy Communications at the social network, subsequently began circulating. Through it, Facebook tried to downplay Haugen’s interference during his time at the company as well as his knowledge of the company.
“Today, a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former Facebook product manager who worked less than two years for the company, who had no direct reports and never participated in critical meetings with C-level executives, and who testified more than six times that she did not work on the issue at hand,” reads a portion of the release; adding, “We disagree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about. Nevertheless, we agree on one thing: it is time to start creating standard rules for the Internet.
Next, Pietsch challenged the senators. “It’s been 25 years since the rules for the Internet were last updated. Instead of waiting for industry to make social decisions that belong to lawmakers, it’s time for Congress to act,” he said.
It’s clear that this story between Facebook, Frances Haugen and the U.S. Congress has just begun. We’ll see what the next chapter brings.