Facebook whistleblower fires up Congress: Is this Mark Zuckerberg’s moment of reckoning?

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WASHINGTON — An unprecedented Senate hearing by a former Facebook product manager on Tuesday shed light on significant problems within the influential technology company. The hearing also showcased another rare event: a bipartisan settlement on Capitol Hill.

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“I will not stand until our children, our health, and our democracy become collateral damage in the game of profit being played by Facebook and other platforms. There is an increasing momentum to take action on both sides of the aisle and I believe Frances Haugen’s testimony will be a real catalyst,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Min., told USA Today on Wednesday.

The White House reiterated that President Joe Biden supports significant reforms to Section 230 after the hearing, as well as reforms on the country’s antitrust laws and data privacy issues.


White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing, “More needs to be done, reform needs to be done, we also need to do more on secrecy and antitrust, and of course yesterday’s testimony again showed them.” issues raised.”

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For years, Facebook navigated scandal after scandal, emerging as an attempt by lawmakers and regulators to rein in the social media giant, but it appears to be unstoppable.

Yet the consensus of outrage on display at the hearing, as well as the line of questioning by lawmakers, indicates a change in dynamics. Has Facebook’s moment of political reckoning finally arrived?

haugen Democrats and Republicans were questioned Tuesday over internal Facebook documents leaked to the Wall Street Journal that showed the company’s apps could harm teens’ well-being and poison public discourse.

bipartisan desperation boils

The hearing offered a road map of what’s to come for Facebook: additional appearances by Haugen on other congressional panels, including national security concerns and the January 6 attack on the Capitol, a demand that CEO Mark Zuckerberg appear before Congress and Motion for bipartisan legislation to regulate social media in Congress a deadlock.

It can also beA blow to the cooperation between MPs on this issue.

“Binpartite legislation is already moving forward in Congress, including my bill with Senator Grassley, to provide federal antitrust enforcers with more resources,” Klobuchar said. “There is energy on both sides of the aisle to take action.”

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“America has a major monopoly problem. We need to get our laws as sophisticated as the companies they regulate to protect consumers, promote entrepreneurship, and reinvigorate capitalism,” she continued.

Klobuchar’s bill, along with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, would increase antitrust regulation of companies, especially major technology platforms. Bipartisan bills have been introduced by other senators with an emphasis on the effects of social media on children and adolescents.

Sen. Mike Lee, R. Sen. Mike Lee, R. —Utah, said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. introduced an updated version of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 in May, which is expected to be taken up with bipartisan support from lawmakers.

Reimposing the marque’s law would ban users aged 13 to 15 from collecting data without their consent, give the Federal Trade Commission new regulatory powers and allow companies to remove personal information of children and teens from the platform. will need to be allowed to delete.

“I think we need to seriously consider updating cup, especially in light of changes in technology that have occurred since it was first implemented,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Ten., told USA Today, referring to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule.

“Now that more and more young adults are on social media, we need to examine how their online identities are being protected. Additionally, a national consumer privacy bill is more than overdue, and I have a discussion with Senator Blumenthal about this. Nice to discuss,” she continued.

Lee has introduced the Promise Act in Congress, which would hold social media platforms legally liable for content on their platforms that is contrary to their own terms of service.

According to the senator’s office, Lee’s law, which censors Jerry Moran, R-Kan, and Mike Braun, R-Ind. is not bipartisan, but will target the political speech and marketing practices of the platform to minors.

Congressional aides told Granthshala that they expect the issue to continue to escalate. Many expect Facebook executives to be called for a hearing and that they may submit documents from the company.

Rep. Anna Esshu, D-Calif., told the House Energy and Commerce Committee all documents related to Haugen’s testimony “specifically related to children’s mental health, COVID-19, election misinformation, algorithmic amplification, and targeted advertising.” called to present.

Lawmakers heralded the need for legislation that protects consumer privacy and children online, that creates new competition rules and that gives Facebook’s algorithms greater visibility into shaping the experiences of its billions of users.

“I would just say, let’s get to work,” said Sen. John Thune, R., SD, who has sponsored Measures on Algorithm Transparency. “We have a few things we can do here.”

MArk Zuckerberg breaks silence

In a Facebook post in response to Haugen’s testimony, Zuckerberg did not address the call to testify. He has testified seven times in the past four years and Facebook executives have testified nearly three dozen times.

Zuckerberg emphasized the company’s claim that Facebook is being unfairly portrayed in the media, and that internal research that Haugen leaked has been taken out of context “to build a false narrative that we need to know.” do not care.”

“At the most basic level,” he wrote. “I think most of us don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being portrayed.”

Haugen urged lawmakers to reform Section 230, which protects social media companies from liability for content posted by their users, by focusing on how their algorithms protect that content from “public safety on virginity and public safety.” To prioritize development and responsiveness”. She also urged them to create a new federal oversight body to regulate social media.

“I have seen Facebook repeatedly face conflicts between its own benefit and our security. Facebook consistently resolves these conflicts in favor of its own benefit,” Haugen told the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee. “As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is not accountable. Unless the incentives change, Facebook will not change.

Facebook has also demanded government regulation. “It’s time for Congress to act,” Facebook’s director of policy communications, Lena Pietsch, said in a statement to USA Today after Tuesday’s hearing.

Zuckerberg urged lawmakers to settle some of the “trade between social equality”.

“For example, what is the right age for teens to be able to use Internet services? How should Internet services verify people’s ages? And companies should protect teens’ privacy while giving parents visibility into their activity.” How should one balance that?” He said in a Facebook post.

The Journal reported Wednesday that Facebook is putting the brakes on rolling out new products and has executives reviewing products to make sure they don’t harm children. Last week, Facebook said that Your Instagram Kids. stop at The product after lawmakers came amid concerns over the harmful effects on young people’s mental health.

Could this be Facebook’s calculation of the moment?

Long-time watchers on Facebook were delighted by Tuesday’s hearing, but many analysts are waiting to see Capitol Hill’s current conversations as meaningful action.

“Facebook’s operations are a study into malice, greed, hypocrisy, arrogance, irresponsibility and power. And yet the company’s content-related practices and policies would be difficult to regulate,” said Jonathan Peters, a professor of media law at the University of Georgia.

The speed to take action can go head-to-head in thorny legal issues.

“I think these Facebook disclosures will generate a lot of public discussion as well as legislative and regulatory action, but I am not optimistic that much of it will be passed constitutionally necessary, especially where the actions are aimed at practices related to company content. and include policies and types of speech protected by the First Amendment,” he said.

Congress is facing obstacles, said David Yeofi, professor of international business at Harvard Business School.

“Unless it really wants to target Facebook in particular, it has to recognize what kind of legislation will have a positive impact on social media more broadly,” he said. “There’s no consensus on what that regulation will be[or]what the law will look like, so in the absence of consensus, Congress is really trying to fact-find at this point.”

Contribution: Mike Snyder

Follow Matthew Brown Online @mbrownsir and Jessica Guiney @jguynn.

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