Live Updates: Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies before Senate committee


Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who revealed her identity on "60 Minutes" on Sunday night, is testifying before the Senate Tuesday. She said the platform's decisions are "a huge problem" for children, public safety and democracy.

Her testimony comes after she told "60 Minutes" that "there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook" and Facebook "chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money."

Haugen worked as a product manager for the civic misinformation team at Facebook for nearly two years before she quit in May. Before leaving, she said she secretly copied tens of thousands of pages of Facebook internal research, which she said provides evidence the company has been lying to the public about making significant progress against hate, violence and misinformation.

Haugen gave many of the documents to The Wall Street Journal, which published reporting on the research that showed the company was aware of the harm it does to underage users. She also shared the internal research with Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, and Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, who are both on the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security. Haugen also filed a whistleblower complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

Blumenthal, the chair of the Senate subcommittee, last week pressed Facebook's global head of safety about that internal research. "We now know that Facebook routinely puts profits ahead of kids' online safety," Blumenthal said.

Antigone Davis, Facebook's head of global safety, defended the research, which Facebook released in an annotated version last week. The slide decks included titles like, "We make body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls," and they showed that a significant percentage of underage users were being exposed to negative experiences on Facebook and Instagram.

In a statement to "60 Minutes," Facebook said "every day our teams have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place. We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true."

The testimony comes one day after Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp worldwide experienced outages for over six hours. Facebook fell along with other big tech stocks on Monday, sliding nearly 5%, and Forbes reported that Mark Zuckerberg alone lost nearly $6 billion.

 

As Haugen testified, Andy Stone, Facebook's policy communications director, went on the offense. He tweeted that Haugen "did not work on child safety or Instagram or research these issues and has no direct knowledge of the topic from her work at Facebook."

Despite criticism over the tweet, Stone repeated Haugen's own responses to lawmaker's questions, including a question from Senator Amy Klobuchar about teens being some of the platform's most profitable users, to which she replied that she didn't work on that. 

Another Facebook spokesperson, Joe Osborne, tweeted that Facebook left in place some of the measures to safeguard against misinformation leading up to January 6 and that Haugen "didn't work on these efforts." 

 

Haugen said "no one truly" understands the "destructive choices" made by Facebook except for Facebook.  "Facebook's closed design means it has no real oversight," Haugen said. "Only Facebook knows how it personalizes your feed for you."

Haugen said that in the end, "the buck stops with Mark" Zuckerberg, and no one is holding him accountable but himself.

"Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror today," she said. "And yet rather than taking responsibility and showing leadership, Mr. Zuckerberg is going sailing."

Blumenthal said Zuckerberg's new policy is "No apologies, No admissions. No acknowledgment."

 

Doubling down on the idea that Facebook can harm young users, Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, showed examples of three fake ads that Facebook approved, promoting anorexia and drug use.

One ad had the words "throw a Skittles party like no other" against an image of pills. Another contained advice on eating less, using common slang for anorexia. The words, against an image of a young woman's bare stomach, read: "AnaTip #2: When you're craving a snack, visit pro-ana sites to feed your motivation and reach your goal."

Live Updates: Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies before Senate committee
The Tech Transparency Project created six ads to run on Facebook that were approved, but never ran. Tech Transparency Project

The ads, which never ran, were created up by the Tech Transparency Project to draw attention to what the group said were holes in Facebook's ad approval process. The TTP tried the experiment this spring and again in September; the ads were approved last month, the group said.

Responding to Lee's question on how those ads could be approved, Haugen theorized that algorithms could be to blame.

While Haugen noted she never worked on the company's ad approval team, she said, "Facebook has a deep focus on scale. Scale is, 'can we do things cheaply for many people. That's why they rely on AI. It's possible none of those ads were seen by a human."

Hate speech on the platform suffers from the same problem, she said. In a best-case scenario, Facebook catches 10 to 20% of hate speech, she said.

 

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen told lawmakers Tuesday that the social media company's internal research shows at least 5% of teenagers on Instagram are addicted to the service and said it is likely that far more kids are hooked.

Haugen said Facebook is aware that its algorithms lead children from "very innocuous topics like healthy recipes" to "anorexia promoting content in a very short period of time."

"Many of Facebook's internal research reports indicate that Facebook has a serious negative harm on a significant portion of teenagers and younger children," Haugen said.

Haugen also noted that Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who holds over 55% of voting shares in the company, is ultimately responsible for the decisions being made at the company.

"There is no one holding Mark [Zuckerberg] accountable but himself," Haugen said. "There is no unilateral responsibility, the metrics make the decisions," she added.

 
  • What: Frances Haugen testifies before Senate subcommittee

  • Date: Tuesday, October 5, 2021 

  • Time: 10 a.m. ET

  • Location: Russell Building – Washington, D.C.

  • Online stream: Live on CBSN in the player above and on your mobile or streaming device.