WASHINGTON — Accusing the giant social network of pursuing profit over security, a former data scientist told Congress on Tuesday that he believes tighter government oversight could mitigate the company’s threats. , from harming children to inciting political violence to giving misinformation.
Francis Haugen, testifying to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, presented widespread condemnation of Facebook. She accused the company of failing to make changes to Instagram after internal research apparently harmed some teens and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation. He backed up Haugen’s allegations from thousands of pages of secretly copied internal research documents before leaving his job at the company’s civil integrity unit.
But he also offered thoughtful ideas about how Facebook’s social media platforms can be made safer. Haughan topped the company’s profit-over-safety strategy with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but he also expressed sympathy for Facebook’s dilemma.
Haugen, who says she joined the company in 2019 because “Facebook has the ability to bring out the best of us,” said she didn’t leak internal documents to a newspaper and then called on Congress to liquidate the company. came in front of Its breakdown, as called by many consumer advocates and lawmakers on both sides.
Haugen is a 37-year-old data specialist from Iowa with a degree in computer engineering and a master’s in business from Harvard. Before being recruited by Facebook, she worked for 15 years at tech companies including Google, Pinterest and Yelp.
“Facebook products harm children, promote division and undermine our democracy,” Haugen said. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram secure, but they won’t make the necessary changes because they put their astronomical advantage to the public.”
“Congress action is needed,” she said. “They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”
Democrats and Republicans have shown a rare unity around Facebook’s disclosure of its handling of potential risks from Instagram to teens, and bipartisan bills to address social media and data-privacy problems have proliferated. But legislating through Congress is a heavy slog. The Federal Trade Commission has taken a tough stance on Facebook and other tech giants in recent years.
“Whenever you have Republicans and Democrats on the same page, you’re probably more likely to see something,” said Gautam Hans, a technology law and free speech expert at Vanderbilt University.
For example, Haughan suggested that the minimum age for Facebook’s popular Instagram photo-sharing platform be raised to 16 or 18 from the current 13.
She also acknowledged the limitations of possible treatments. Facebook, like other social media companies, uses algorithms to rank and recommend content in users’ news feeds. When rankings are based on engagement – likes, shares and comments – as is now with Facebook, users can be vulnerable to manipulation and misinformation. Haugen would prefer the rankings to be chronological. But, she testified, “people will make more addictive choices, even if it is driving their daughters to eating disorders.”
Haugen said that 2018’s change in content flow contributed to more division and malfeasance in networks built to bring people together.
Despite the animosity that the new algorithms were feeding, she said Facebook found they helped keep people coming back — a pattern that helped the social media giant sell more and more digital ads, which generate more of its revenue. Generates the vast majority.
Haugen said he believes Facebook is not ready to create a destructive platform. “I have a huge sympathy for Facebook,” she said. “These are really tough questions, and I think they feel a little trapped and isolated.”
But “in the end, the buck stops with Mark,” Haugen said, referring to Zuckerberg, who controls more than 50% of Facebook’s voting shares. “There is currently no one else who holds Mark accountable but himself.”
Haugen said he believed Zuckerberg was aware of some internal research showing concern about the potential negative effects of Instagram.
The subcommittee is investigating Facebook’s use of compiled information about Instagram by its own researchers. Those findings may indicate potential harm to some of its younger users, especially girls, although Facebook publicly underestimated the potential negative effects. For some teens devoted to Facebook’s popular photo-sharing platform, the peer pressure generated by the visually-focused Instagram led to mental health and body-image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, leaked by Haugen. It was found from the research done.
An internal study cited 13.5% of teen girls as saying that Instagram makes suicidal thoughts worse and 17% of teen girls saying it makes eating disorders worse.
It has also filed complaints with federal officials alleging that Facebook’s own research shows it fuels hate, misinformation and political unrest, but that the company hides what it knows.
Following recent reports in The Wall Street Journal that he caused a public outcry based on documents leaked to the newspaper, Haugen revealed his identity in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night.
As the public relations debacle on Instagram Research escalated last week, Facebook halted its work on a children’s version of Instagram, which the company says is primarily aimed at tweens ages 10 to 12.
Haugen said Facebook had prematurely shut down security measures designed to incite misinformation and violence after defeating Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election, alleging that doing so would prevent the US contributed to the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Following the November election, Facebook dissolved the civil integrity unit where Haugen was working. That was the moment he realized “I don’t believe they’re really prepared to invest in keeping Facebook from being dangerous.”
Haugen says she told Facebook executives that when they recruited her she wanted to work in an area of the company that fights misinformation, because she had lost a friend to conspiracy theories online.
Facebook says Haugen’s allegations are misleading and insists there is no evidence to support the premise that it is the primary cause of social polarization.
“Today, a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing at Facebook with a former product manager who worked for the company for less than two years, there was no direct report, ever a decision-point with (top) executives. Did not attend the meeting – and testified more than six times for “not working on that topic,” the company said in a statement. We do not agree with his characterization of many of the issues on which he testified.”
Associated Press writers Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, and Amanda Seitz in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.