Facebook took another swift move in the US Congress on Tuesday and a senator called on federal regulators to investigate allegations by a whistle-blower that the company pushed for more gains on user safety.
In an opening statement to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee, Chairman Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said Facebook knew its products were as addictive as cigarettes. “Tech is now facing that big tobacco jaw of truth,” he said.
He called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the committee, and for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the social media company.
“Our children are the ones who are suffering. Teenagers today feel doubts and insecurities when they look in the mirror. Mark Zuckerberg should be looking at himself in the mirror,” Blumenthal said, with Zuckerberg sailing instead.
In an era when bipartisanship is rare on Capitol Hill, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed on the need for major changes on Facebook.
The top Republican on the subcommittee, Marsha Blackburn, said Facebook turned a blind eye to children under the age of 13 on its sites. “It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users.”
Facebook spokesman Kevin McAllister said in an email before the hearing that the company considers protecting its community more important than maximizing profits and said it was not accurate that leaked internal research suggests that Instagram is not targeting teen girls. It was “toxic”.
Frances Haugen, former product manager for Facebook’s civil misinformation team, said the company keeps its algorithms and operations secret.
“The crux of the issue is that no one understands Facebook’s disastrous choices better than Facebook, because only Facebook gets to see under the hood,” she said in written testimony ready for the hearing.
“Transparency is an important starting point for effective regulation,” she said in evidence to be presented to the subcommittee. “On this basis, we can create sensible rules and standards to address consumer harm, illegal content, data protection, anti-competitive practices, algorithmic systems and more.”
Haugen revealed that she was the one who used documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on the harms of Instagram to teenage girls.
Journal stories show that the company contributed to online polarization when it made changes to its content algorithm; Failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitation; And was aware that Instagram harms teenage girls’ mental health.
Haugen said Facebook has also done little to prevent its site from being used by people who plan violence.
Facebook was used by people planning mass killings in Myanmar and the US Capitol was attacked on January 6 by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, who were determined to tout the 2020 election results.
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