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Facebook 'operating in the shadows' says whistleblower as U.S. lawmakers demand probes

Stock MarketsOct 05, 2021 09:26PM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is interviewed by Scott Pelley for a CBS News 60 Minutes program in an undated photograph. Robert Fortunato for CBS News/60MINUTES/Handout via REUTERS 2/2

By David Shepardson and Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. lawmakers pounded Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) on Tuesday, accusing CEO Mark Zuckerberg of pushing for higher profits while being cavalier about user safety, and they demanded regulators investigate whistleblower accusations that the social media company harms children's mental health and stokes divisions.

Zuckerberg, hours later in a public Facebook post, defended the company, saying the accusations were at odds with Facebook's goals.

"The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical," he wrote. "We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don't want their ads next to harmful or angry content. And I don't know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed."

During a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, whistleblower Frances Haugen called for transparency about how Facebook entices users to keep scrolling, creating ample opportunity for advertisers to reach them.

"As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is unaccountable," said Haugen, a former product manager on Facebook's civic misinformation team. She left the nearly $1 trillion company with tens of thousands of confidential documents.

"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," Haugen said.

In an era when bipartisanship is rare in Washington, lawmakers from both parties excoriated the company, illustrating the rising anger in Congress with Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp.

Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican, said he was concerned how Facebook and subsidiaries like Instagram affected the mental health of children. "We're going to look back 20 years from now and all of us are going to be like, 'What the hell were we thinking?'"

Haugen revealed she was the person who provided documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-oversight-board-seeks-clarity-review-system-high-profile-users-2021-09-21 and a Senate hearing on Instagram's harm to teenage girls. She compared the social media services to addictive substances like tobacco and opioids.

Panel chair Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said Facebook knew that its products were addictive. "Tech now faces that big tobacco jaw-dropping moment of truth," he said.

He called for Zuckerberg to testify before the committee, and for the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook.

"Our children are the ones who are victims. Teens today looking in the mirror feel doubt and insecurity. Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror," Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said after the hearing that he would want to ask Zuckerberg why he rejected recommendations to make products safer for users.

Zuckerberg, in his post, said Facebook would not stop researching its societal impact. But he wrote that Congress needed to update rules to make clear the legal age for teens to use internet services, how to verify their ages and where to "balance teens' privacy while giving parents visibility into their activity."

SHARES UP

Facebook's shares rose 2% on Tuesday to close at $332.96, roughly 13% below the record closing high on Sept. 7.

Coming a day after Facebook suffered an hours-long outage, Haugen pointed to the outage in her testimony: "For more than five hours Facebook wasn't used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies."

As lawmakers criticized Facebook, the company's spokespeople fired back on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and in statements, arguing that Haugen did not work directly on some of the topics being raised.

"We don't agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about," Facebook spokeswoman Lena Pietsch said.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, accused Facebook of turning a blind eye to children below age 13 on its services. "It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users," she said.

Last week, Antigone Davis, Facebook's global head of safety, defended the company in front of Congress and said that it was seeking to release additional internal studies in an effort to be more transparent about its findings.

Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Commerce Committee, said she would write Facebook to insist that it not delete documents related to Myanmar's persecuted Muslim minority Rohingya. An aide said she would ask for broader retention of documents.

A U.S. federal judge last month had ordered Facebook to release records of accounts connected to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media company had shut down.

Haugen said she would encourage "oversight and public scrutiny" into Facebook's content recommendation algorithms and their consequences. She suggested creating a dedicated body within the federal government to oversee social media companies.

Blumenthal said he might want to hold an additional hearing to discuss national security issues related to Facebook.

Haugen said Facebook had also done too little to prevent violence.

Facebook was used by people planning mass killings in Myanmar and the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump who were determined to toss out the 2020 election results.

Senator Edward Markey, speaking to the absent Zuckerberg, said during the hearing: "Your time of invading our privacy and preying on children is over. Congress will be taking action."

Throughout the hearing lawmakers referred to Zuckerberg as going sailing instead of facing his responsibilities. The CEO this weekend posted a video https://www.instagram.com/tv/CUlJKmYBjwa taken with the company's new smart glasses of his wife in a boat.

Facebook 'operating in the shadows' says whistleblower as U.S. lawmakers demand probes
 

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Comments (13)
Boaz Levinson
Boaz Levinson Oct 05, 2021 11:58PM ET
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stock going up now ? really ?
Boaz Levinson
Boaz Levinson Oct 05, 2021 11:58PM ET
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well at least yesterday it did
ZS Beck
ZS Beck Oct 05, 2021 2:59PM ET
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Whistleblower? About what? Higher profit? Everyone knows that the only way for higher profit is to walk through people. Nothing new here.Amazon or Wallmart or any other business are better? Your choice to use the service or not. Simple is that. TV commercials are not the same?I'm not defending FB, but I don't see any unknown information here.She just wanted an spotlight.
Neurotoxin Pridebreaker
Neurotoxin Pridebreaker Oct 05, 2021 2:59PM ET
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Like most "eat the rich" children - you're not very bright. Comparing the neurological impact of TV commercials to that of FB's profiling/advertising algorithms is like comparing horse-drawn vehicles to spaceships. But both turn a profit so both are the same, right? Neurological impact of that precision can cause very serious damage if done carelessly, and even spill out into sociological phenomena. When was the last time a hot new item for sale by WalMart or Amazon precipitated in insurrection attempt in DC? You're clueless. Shut up.
DJ Ryte
DJ Ryte Oct 05, 2021 12:19PM ET
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Companies who take civil responsibilities seriously should take better precautions rather than big nanny government
Josh Ballenger
Josh Ballenger Oct 05, 2021 12:19PM ET
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civil responsibilities like how they hid the Hunter Biden story because it was bad for their political interests?
Jai Haugen
Jai Haugen Oct 05, 2021 10:11AM ET
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My thoughts. everybody has way too much idle time on their hands including congress hear this rambling.
DJ Ryte
DJ Ryte Oct 05, 2021 10:11AM ET
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Nothing like counter propaganda?
Joseph Armour
Joseph Armour Oct 05, 2021 9:54AM ET
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Apparently the use of the words 'p o- litical' and 'pr- o, ganda' are not allowed by anyone but the media. I have been ' ce- sor, ed' again.
Joseph Armour
Joseph Armour Oct 05, 2021 9:53AM ET
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So the entire content of this persons testimony is that Facebook won't manipulate the underage public with the current political propaganda, choosing to stick to the previous political propaganda it has always pushed.
pt pt
pt pt Oct 05, 2021 9:32AM ET
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This fb whistleblower is all a ploy by fb to get the gov to enact censorship by gov laws. Which is alrdy doing. She is a loyal lib dem. No way a rebel.
George Horincar
George Horincar Oct 05, 2021 9:24AM ET
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I don't see how you can put google in the exact same pot with fb
John Laurens
John Laurens Oct 05, 2021 9:24AM ET
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fb is a juvenile delinquent compared to the great satan that is google.
Graydon Fox
Graydon Fox Oct 05, 2021 8:23AM ET
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I can't wait to see them burn FB & Google to the ground!
bret lafrance
bret lafrance Oct 05, 2021 7:06AM ET
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FB and Guggle are all advertising and should meet truth in advertising standards
bret lafrance
bret lafrance Oct 05, 2021 7:05AM ET
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normal comments being filtered
bret lafrance
bret lafrance Oct 05, 2021 7:04AM ET
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everything on facebook (and google) should be treated as advertisement and required to meet stringent truth in advertising standards
CFG fdez
CFG fdez Oct 05, 2021 6:24AM ET
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FB will call it "freedom of speech". Enjoy anarcholiberalism
 
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