A new report this morning is claiming that the Facebook Inc. whistle-blower who turned over a trove of internal company documents to U.S. securities regulators will tell senators that the company misled the public and shareholders about the harmful effects of its platforms, according to her testimony.
Bloomberg reports that Frances Haugen will tell the Senate Tuesday, that "Facebook became a $1 trillion company by paying for its profits with our safety, including the safety of our children. I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook. The company’s leadership keeps vital information from the public, the U.S. government, its shareholders, and governments around the world."
Haugen, a 37-year-old former product manager at the company, is set to testify before a panel of the Senate Commerce Committee about internal Facebook research that she says shows the company prioritized profit, stoking division, undermining democracy and harming the mental-health of its youngest users. Haugen shared Facebook’s internal research with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, chair of the subcommittee holding the hearing, on Sunday praised Haugen’s "bravery in revealing terrible truths about one of the world’s most powerful, implacable corporate giants." Blumenthal said in a prepared statement that "Facebook’s actions make clear that we cannot trust it to police itself. We must consider stronger oversight, effective protections for children, and tools for parents, among the needed reforms."
The question for lawmakers now is how to craft and pass legislation to prevent the harms Haugen described. While there are numerous proposals to tighten regulations on internet companies, there has been little momentum so far to move bills through the process to become law.
In the Dark
Haugen will further tell senators that the starting point for effective regulation is full access to Facebook data so that the public has insight into the company’s systems. Regulators today are blind to Facebook’s problems and how to craft solutions, she said. "As long as Facebook is operating in the dark, it is accountable to no one,” she said. “And it will continue to make choices that go against the common good."
Some advocates are pushing U.S. Congress to pass a comprehensive federal privacy law that would prevent social media companies from tracking users to expose them to more tailored -- and in some cases harmful -- content. Such a change would have huge implications for Facebook’s business model, which depends on keeping people engaged on the company’s platforms and delivering them more ads.
Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, said a “national consumer privacy bill is more than overdue,” as well as an update to the 1998 children’s privacy law that prohibits online tracking of people under 13. She was among the lawmakers last week who cheered Facebook’s announcement that it would pause plans for an Instagram service aimed at children.
Facebook Prioritizes ‘Greed’ Over Children, Senators Say. Some lawmakers favor changing the Section 230 provision of a 1996 law that shields online platforms from liability for user-generated content. There are several bills that would remove legal protections for certain kinds of speech, like civil-rights violations or cyber-bullying, but there are limits to what Congress can outlaw without running afoul of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech guarantee. For more, read the full Bloomberg report.
We've heard testimony from Facebook's CEO many times at various capital hill hearings and we've seen how senators sound tough and yet, to date, nothing of any consequence has been handed down to Facebook. Senator Richard Blumenthal's statement said that "We must consider stronger oversight." Yet consideration never seems to actually turn into meaningful legislation with teeth. It's nothing but talk of late. And once Facebook's lobbying group is done, Facebook will get a slap on the hand at best. Could I be wrong? I'm hoping I am.