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Facebook ‘accountable to no one,’ whistleblower will say in testimony

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Facebook ‘accountable to no one,’ whistleblower will say in testimony

Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen will tell Congress Tuesday the company faces little oversight and will liken the social media giant to tobacco companies that for decades denied that smoking damaged health, according to testimony seen by Reuters.

“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms it caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seatbelts, the government took action,” said Haugen’s written testimony before a Senate Commerce subcommittee set for Tuesday. “I implore you to do the same here.”

Early Newspaper

Haugen will tell the panel that Facebook executives regularly chose profits over user safety.

“The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people. Congressional action is needed,” she will say. “As long as Facebook is operating in the dark, it is accountable to no one. And it will continue to make choices that go against the common good.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely via videoconference in this screengrab made from video during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely via videoconference in this screengrab made from video during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled,

Haugen, who worked as a product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team, appeared on Sunday on the CBS television program “60 Minutes.” She revealed her identity as the whistleblower who provided documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teen girls.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Haugen’s comments on “60 Minutes” were “the latest in a series of revelations about social media platforms that make clear that self-regulation is not working.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Haugen added that “Facebook’s closed design means it has no oversight — even from its own Oversight Board, which is as blind as the public.”

That makes it impossible for regulators to serve as a check, she added.

“This inability to see into the actual systems of Facebook and confirm that Facebook’s systems work like they say is like the Department of Transportation regulating cars by watching them drive down the highway,” her testimony says. “Imagine if no regulator could ride in a car, pump up its wheels, crash test a car, or even know that seat belts could exist.”

The Journal’s stories, based on Facebook internal presentations and emails, showed the company contributed to increased polarization online when it made changes to its content algorithm; failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitancy; and was aware that Instagram harmed mental health of teenage girls.

Haugen said Facebook had done too little to prevent its platform from being used by people planning violence.

“The result has been a system that amplifies division, extremism, and polarization — and undermining societies around the world. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people,” she said.

Facebook was used by people planning mass killings in Myanmar and the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, determined to toss out the 2020 election results.

US Senator Amy Klobuchar says she will ask the Facebook whistleblower on Tuesday whether the social media company did enough to warn law enforcement about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The senator said she would also ask Haugen about her assertion that the company’s algorithms promote harmful content.

Haugen said that Facebook’s emphasis on profits also led to it doing too little to protect teenage girls from self-hatred fed in particular by Instagram.

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Facebook ‘accountable to no one,’ whistleblower will say in testimony