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07 October 2021

Facebook: US Legislators Call For Action Following New Revelations

Legislators in the United States have called for action to crack down on Facebook after a former employee told senators how the social media company repeatedly prioritised profits over user safety.

In a three-hour hearing of the US Senate Commerce Committee, whistleblower Frances Haugen accused Facebook of pushing to maximise social interaction on its platforms at all costs, even when those interactions exacerbated addiction, bullying and eating disorders.

Ms Haugen said Facebook had decided on multiple occasions not to implement changes that would reduce the visibility of inflammatory content, the FT reported.

Ms Haugen also alleged that the company covered up research it had conducted on how its services affect children in particular, exposing them to round-the-clock bullying and content that negatively affected users’ mental health.

“The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They cannot solve this crisis without your help,” Ms Haugen said. 

Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the allegations that the company prioritised profit over safety were not true and that most Facebook employees “don’t recognise the false picture of the company that is being painted.”

Richard Blumenthal, Chair of the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee, said after the hearing there was bipartisan support for getting new legislation across the finish line.

leader in The Times this week said: “Facebook’s monopoly is also a strangely fragile one. Behind all of this lurks a palpable fear of declining relevance, particularly among the young.

"For many millennials and younger people, the platform is regarded as a place that their parents go to be busybodies or to share reactionary politics. Increasingly youthful tastes veer towards the Chinese micro-video site TikTok, and the messaging service Snapchat.

"The inability or unwillingness to rein in misinformation, political extremists and irresponsible celebrities stems from a fear that they too can easily go elsewhere.

“None of this stops the company, used in its various forms by about a quarter of people each day, being a dauntingly powerful and often worrisome entity, capable of doing untold harm through corporate avarice and Mr Zuckerberg’s jejune incompetence.”

Writing in the Guardian about Facebook's services going offline Jathan Sadowski, a research fellow in the emerging technologies research lab at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, said: "The company would probably see this as evidence that our lives are too intertwined with its services for them to ever go away.

"But, as the company has proven time and time again, our interests and its interests are rarely aligned. We should instead recognise that allowing a rapacious company to design and own critical infrastructure with zero accountability is the worst of all possible options.

"If its executives want to compare social media to cars, then at the very least this dangerous technology must be subjected to the same level of heavy regulation and independent oversight as the automotive industry.

"Otherwise, Facebook must be reminded that it’s not too late for the public to pull the plug on this social experiment gone wrong. Right now, almost any alternative would be better."