Facebook has admitted that the ‘internet needs regulating’ and called on lawmakers to impose ‘standard rules’ but has hit back against claims by whistleblower Frances Haugen that it puts profits over the safety of its users.
The tech giant slapped down Haugen after she testified to Congress on Tuesday, saying that the data scientist never attended meetings with top executives and that she was wildly misinformed about the company.
Mark Zuckerberg wrote in an open letter to his staff: ‘I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted.’
Haugen told Capitol Hill how Facebook put its ‘astronomical profits’ above the safeguarding of its users and that Zuckerberg had been directly involved in decisions that increased ‘misinformation, hate speech and other inciting content.’
She said that executives were aware that Facebook and Instagram, which it owns, were harmful for children, with a leaked internal study revealing that teenage girls had increased suicidal thoughts from using Instagram.
The 37-year-old said that Facebook’s algorithms, centered around ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, rewarded ‘dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people.’
Her claims were devastating for Facebook’s public image and prompted senators from across the aisle to attack the firm and Zuckerberg, who has previously been summoned to the Capitol to testify on his firm’s practices.
Facebook’s director of policy communications, Lena Pietsch, responded to Haugen’s testimony by pointing out she worked at the company for less than two years.
Pietsch added that Haugen ‘had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives — and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question.’
But Facebook agreed on the need for more regulation.
‘It’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet,’ Pietsch said.
‘It’s been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act.’
In Haugen’s blistering testimony she said:
- Mark Zuckerberg is only ‘accountable to himself’ and has been directly involved in decisions that put profit over ‘decreasing misinformation, hate speech and other inciting content’
- Executives are aware that Facebook is harmful for children, with it ‘exposing teenagers to anorexia content’ and ‘pulling families apart’
- A leaked internal Facebook study showed 13.5% of British teenagers said their suicidal thoughts were more frequent because of Instagram (which FB owns)
- Another leaked study found 17% of teen girls said their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram
- The site profits from ‘dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people’
- Facebook covered up the extent to which it knew about the planners of the Capitol siege
- The firm ‘hides vital information from the public, from the U.S.government, and from governments around the world’
Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday evening defended his company, saying it was ‘frustrating’ to see a ‘false picture’ of Facebook being painted by Haugen
Frances Haugen on Tuesday appeared before Congress to discuss the workings of Facebook.She suggested a government entity be created to regulate Facebook during the scathing Senate hearing
Zuckerberg said Haugen painted ‘a false picture of the company’.
In a memo he sent to all staff, which he posted on Facebook, he wrote: ‘I’m sure many of you have found the recent coverage hard to read because it just doesn’t reflect the company we know.
‘We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health.It’s difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives.
‘At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted.’
Zuckerberg said it was ‘just not true’ that the Website design company prioritizes profit over all other concerns, and said it was not in their interests to promote damaging content.
He said the company was doing a lot of work on moderation, and on protecting children.
But Zuckerberg’s response was torn apart by lawmakers who agreed that Haugen’s claims were backed up by evidence.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal kicked off the hearing by calling Facebook ‘morally bankrupt’ and criticized Zuckerberg for going sailing in Hawaii with wife Priscilla Chan instead of answering questions from lawmakers.
Senator Ed Markey also piled on the absent tech billionaire, addressing him by name during the hearing to warn him that ‘Congress will be taking action’ with or without his help.
‘Your time of invading privacy, promoting toxic content, and preying on children and teens is over.Congress will be taking action. You can work with us, or not work with us, but we will not allow your company to harm our children and our families and out democracy any longer,’ Markey said.
Haugen told senators that no similar company’s CEO has as much unilateral control as Zuckerberg does.
‘Mark holds a very unique role in the tech industry in that he holds over 55% of all the voting shares for Facebook.There are no similarly powerful companies that are as unilaterally controlled,’ she said. ‘There’s no one currently holding him accountable but himself.’
She said ‘the buck stops with’ Facebook’s tech billionaire owner, adding that ‘Facebook needs to take responsibility for the consequences of its choices.’
Later in the hearing Haugen said Zuckerberg himself even made choices that put engagement over public safety.
‘We have a few choice documents that contain notes from briefings with Mark Zuckerberg where he chose metrics defined by Facebook like «meaningful social interactions» over changes that would have significantly decreased misinformation, hate speech and other inciting content,’ she told Senator Ben Ray Lujan.
Markey lauded Haugen as a ‘Twenty-first century American hero’ for speaking out against the social media giant.
He also accused Facebook of being built on ‘computer codes of misconduct.’
‘Time and time again Facebook says one thing and does another.Time and time again Facebook fails to abide by the commitments that they had made. Time and time again, Facebook lies about what they are doing,’ he said.
‘Facebook’s platforms are not safe for young people, as you said Facebook is like big tobacco, enticing young kids with that first cigarette…whistleblowing shows that Facebook uses harmful features.’
During his second round of hearing Markey accused Facebook of using lobbyists to block legislators’ reform efforts.
Blumenthal criticized Facebook’s founder earlier on in his opening statement on Tuesday morning.
Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen arrives to testify during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday
Haugen suggested Facebook’s self-created burden could have gotten so large that they simply didn’t know what to do with it and felt ‘trapped’
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