UPDATE: Ex-Facebook employee says social network hurts kids, fuels division

caption arrowCaption
Key Revelations the Facebook Whistleblower , Made to Congress.Key Revelations the Facebook Whistleblower , Made to Congress.Frances Haugen is a former Facebook employee who worked as a product manager on issues related to civic integrity.She testified before Congress on Oct. 5, two days after a bombshell interview she did was aired on "60 Minutes.".She testified before Congress on Oct. 5, two days after a bombshell interview she did was aired on "60 Minutes.".One of the key moments during her testimony occurred when she called out Facebook as a threat to kids and U.S. democracy.[Products of Facebook] harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy, Frances Haugen, Facebook whistleblower, via CNN.Haugen suggested that Facebook ought to "declare moral bankruptcy,".and she urged lawmakers to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.Section 230 protects a company's authority to moderate the content of its platform.Haugen also said Facebook AI intercepts a "very tiny minority" of offensive content on Facebook.She said children struggle with body image issues in ways that are unprecedented, .primarily because the burden of protecting children is placed largely on the parents.I'm saddest when I look on Twitter and people blame the parents for these problems with Facebook. They say, 'Just take your kid's phone away.', Frances Haugen, Facebook whistleblower, via CNN.It's a lot more complicated than that, Frances Haugen, Facebook whistleblower, via CNN.She suggested that schools and federal health organizations should begin to provide information to assist parents.Finally, Haugen said she continues to have “strong national security concerns” about Facebook operations

WASHINGTON — A former Facebook data scientist told Congress on Tuesday that the social network giant’s products harm children and fuel polarization in the U.S. while its executives refuse to change because they elevate profits over safety. And she laid responsibility with the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

»Watch a replay of Frances Haugen’s testimony

Frances Haugen testified to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. Speaking confidently at a charged hearing, she accused the company of being aware of apparent harm to some teens from Instagram and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.

“Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.”

“Congressional action is needed,” she said. “They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

ExploreWhistleblower: Facebook chose profit over public safety

Haugen said the company has acknowledged publicly that integrity controls were crucially needed for its systems that stoke the engagement of users, but then it disabled some of those controls.

In dialogue with receptive senators of both parties, Haugen, who focused on algorithm products in her work at Facebook, explained the importance to the company of algorithms that govern what shows up on users’ news feeds. She said a 2018 change to the content flow contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together.

Despite the enmity that the new algorithms were feeding, she said Facebook found that they helped keep people coming back — a pattern that helped the social media giant sell more of the digital ads that generate most of its revenue.

Senators agreed.

“It has profited off spreading misinformation and disinformation and sowing hate,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, the panel’s chairman. “Facebook’s answers to Facebook’s destructive impact always seems to be more Facebook, we need more Facebook — which means more pain, and more money for Facebook.”

Haugen said she believed Facebook didn’t set out to build a destructive platform. But “in the end, the buck stops with Mark,” she said referring to Zuckerberg, who controls more than 50% of Facebook’s voting shares. “There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.”

Haugen said she believed that Zuckerberg was familiar with some of the internal research showing concerns for potential negative impacts of Instagram.

The government needs to step in with stricter oversight of the company, Haugen said.

Like fellow tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple, Facebook has enjoyed minimal regulation. A number of bipartisan legislative proposals for the tech industry address data privacy, protection of young people and anti-competitive conduct. But getting new laws through Congress is a heavy slog. The Federal Trade Commission has adopted a stricter stance recently toward Facebook and other companies.

ExploreFacebook, WhatsApp, Instagram back online after worldwide outage

The subcommittee is examining Facebook’s use of information from its own researchers on Instagram that could indicate potential harm for some of its young users, especially girls, while it publicly downplayed the negative impacts. For some of the 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, the research leaked by Haugen showed.

One internal study cited 13.5% of teen girls saying Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17% of teen girls saying it makes eating disorders worse.

Because of the drive for user engagement, Haugen testified, “Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content. ... It’s just like cigarettes. Teenagers don’t have any self-regulation. We need to protect the kids.”

Haugen has come forward with a wide-ranging condemnation of Facebook, buttressed with tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit. She also has filed complaints with federal authorities alleging that Facebook’s own research shows that it amplifies hate, misinformation and political unrest, but the company hides what it knows.

“The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the U.S. government and from governments around the world,” Haugen said. “The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages.”

The former employee challenging the social network giant with 2.8 billion users worldwide and nearly $1 trillion in market value is a 37-year-old data expert from Iowa with a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in business from Harvard. Prior to being recruited by Facebook in 2019, she worked for 15 years at tech companies including Google, Pinterest and Yelp.

After recent reports in The Wall Street Journal based on documents she leaked to the newspaper raised a public outcry, Haugen revealed her identity in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night.

As the public relations debacle over the Instagram research grew last week, Facebook put on hold its work on a kids version of Instagram, which the company says is meant mainly for tweens ages 10 to 12.

Haugen said Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and incitement to violence after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, alleging that contributed to the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.