5 takeaways from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s Senate testimony

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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified in entrance of a key Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, sounding the alarm about every part from Instagram’s impact on teen ladies to the nationwide safety threats posed by Facebook. 

She stated the corporate must declare “moral bankruptcy.”

Prior to her three-hour lengthy testimony, Haugen despatched hundreds of inside Facebook paperwork to lawmakers, who’re pushing a slate of payments to reign within the tech big and calling on Mark Zuckerberg himself to testify beneath oath. 

Here are 5 essential takeaways from her testimony:  

Instagram and teenage ladies

Teen ladies on Instagram face a barrage of dangerous content material, together with photos selling anorexia and different physique picture problems. Since Instagram’s algorithms prey on vulnerabilities and youths have poor impulse management, they maintain coming to the app although it makes them really feel worse about themselves, based on Haugen. 

This discovering is backed up by paperwork she leaked to the Wall Street Journal, which embrace an inside Facebook presentation from March 2020 stating that “32 percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” 

“Instagram is about bodies, and about comparing lifestyles,” stated Haugen, arguing that the photograph sharing app is worse for teenagers than opponents TikTok and Snapchat.

Facebook has stated that the Instagram examine was taken out of context and that the app does extra good than hurt for teenage ladies and different customers by connecting them with buddies. The firm has additionally questioned Haugen’s credibility by saying she didn’t work for the Instagram or little one security groups whereas at Facebook.

Frances Haugen testifying
Haugen despatched hundreds of inside Facebook paperwork to lawmakers forward of her testimony.
Drew Angerer/Pool by way of EPA

Facebook and nationwide safety

While a Facebook worker from June 2019 to May 2021, Haugen frolicked engaged on the corporate’s counterespionage staff. Through this work, she stated she noticed China utilizing Facebook to surveil Uyghur dissidents and Iran utilizing the platform for espionage.

Haugen accused Facebook of not taking threats like these critically sufficient. 

“I believe Facebook’s consistent understaffing of the counterespionage information operations and counterterrorism teams is a national security issue, and I’m speaking to other parts of Congress about that,” she stated. “I believe the fact that Congress doesn’t get a report of exactly how many people are working on these things internally is unacceptable because you have a right to keep the American people safe.” 

“I have strong national security concerns about how Facebook operates today,” she added.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) stated the Senate subcommittee the place Haugen testified Tuesday could ask the whistleblower to return again once more for an additional listening to particularly centered on nationwide safety points. 

Focus on algorithms

Facebook and Instagram prominently show posts that comprise clickbait and excessive content material, incentivizing customers to work together and reply, Haugen stated. This system, known as “engagement-based ranking,” retains customers hooked however encourages the unfold of misinformation and hate speech, the whistleblower stated. 

Haugen stated she would assist guidelines requiring social media corporations to show content material within the order they had been posted, which she says would repair these points. 

The whistleblower additionally stated that ongoing efforts to interrupt up Facebook by forcing the corporate to promote of Instagram or WhatsApp wouldn’t remedy her issues with the corporate as a result of they’d not result in algorithm modifications. 

Facebook has stated that it has tweaked its algorithms to lower the unfold of hate speech and misinformation. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) stated the Senate subcommittee Haugen testified earlier than on Tuesday could ask her to return again for an additional listening to particularly centered on nationwide safety points. 
Drew Angerer/Pool by way of AP

Where’s Zuck?

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been conspicuously absent over the previous month as Haugen’s leaks had been reported within the press.

As the Wall Street Journal published a series of damning articles about Instagram’s impact on teen ladies and Facebook’s failure to trace down drug sellers and intercourse traffickers, amongst different points, Zuckerberg embraced watersports.

His solely response to the Journal articles was a foul joke a couple of surfboard. On Sunday — the identical day Haugen revealed her identification in an interview with 60 minutes — Zuckerberg posted on Facebook about going crusing.

“Rather than taking responsibility and showing leadership, Mr. Zuckerberg is going sailing,” Blumenthal stated throughout the listening to. 

The New York Times reported in September that Zuckerberg has determined to distance himself from scandals by apologizing much less and letting surrogates take flak. That plan seemed to be in full impact final week, when Facebook despatched its lesser-known chief of world safety, Antigone Davis, to testify in entrance of the identical Senate subcommittee that hosted Haugen.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee
“Rather than taking responsibility and showing leadership, Mr. Zuckerberg is going sailing,” stated Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) throughout the listening to. 
Drew Angerer/Pool by way of EPA

Facebook brings Democrats and Republicans collectively

As Democrats and Republicans squabble over spending payments and the debt ceiling, hating Facebook is the uncommon subject each events can agree on. Politicians from each events don’t have any drawback laying into the corporate, particularly relating to Instagram’s impact on teen ladies.

But regardless of quite a lot of bipartisan laws floating round in Congress calling for every part from algorithm tweaks to outright breaking apart Facebook, there doesn’t appear to be a transparent consensus about what payments can really go.

Haugen steered a number of potential steps Congress may take, together with requiring Facebook to launch its inside analysis and creating an unbiased authorities oversight group run by former tech employees who perceive technical points.