By: H. Prado
In early October, following Facebook’s blackout, a former employee called Frances Haugen came forward as a whistleblower for the company’s wrongdoings. She spoke before American Congress and accused the platform of hiding information which hurt the US government and its population.
Haugen worked at Facebook for over two years, while also having worked at Pinterest as well as other social media platforms. She called the situation at Facebook, ‘substantially worse,’ and accused it of malpractices such as, ‘undermining democracy’, ‘harming children,’ and ‘sowing division,’ within society. Further, she claimed that the company ‘consistently chose to maximize its growth rather than implement safeguards on its platforms, which lead many times lead to violence and physical harming of citizens, such as the genocide in Myanmar in 2018.
During her testimony, Haugen revealed that she took documents from Facebook, which she then leaked in her speech. She asserted that Facebook has a study which shows that 13.5% of teen girls said that they had more frequent suicide thoughts after starting Instagram accounts, while 17% claimed that they developed eating disorders. Additionally, she posed eight complaints within the Commission in Congress, all of which are protected, but Facebook is legally allowed to prosecute her for sharing privileged information.
In turn, the Capitol sympathized with Haugen’s claims. Notably, Senator Marsha Blackburn said that children are heavily at risk with Facebook, especially since they target youngsters with ‘addictive’ products, despite them not being formally allowed to have an account on the platform. This was echoed by Subcommittee Chair Richard Blumenthal, who also attested that Facebook ‘exploited’ children.
As a result of Haugen’s speech, Republicans and Democrats came together and contended that their differences were ‘very minor,’, meaning that they decided to work together in face of such allegations. A proposed solution includes having citizens be able to sue Facebook, which they are currently not allowed to do because of a concept known as Section 230. Politicians also contemplated instating a national privacy law, and breaking down Facebook as a whole, which they later decided against.
In response, Facebook Executive Monika Bickert publicly reminded the American population that the platform had worked to stop political advertisements and fake news during the November presidential election, arguing that it was actively protecting its users. She also reported that Haugen had ‘stolen’ confidential information, suggesting that her reports were invalid. This was reflected by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who claimed that the leaked information had been distorted. He stated that Haugen used to construct a false narrative that we don't care (about society)," thus harming the company’s image.
Overall, it is clear that Facebook has a difficult road ahead: Haugen’s claims shed light on the company’s behavior, and although it future is still uncertain, it is evident that it has a long way to go to regain users’ trust.