The Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security heard testimony Tuesday from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former employee of the tech giant. In a rare show of bipartisanship, a bloc of Republicans and Democrats joined together to demand action against the company.
Haugen, who used to work as a lead product manager for Facebook’s civic misinformation team, came before the Senate to discuss the company’s internal practices, with special emphasis placed on the ways that these practices disproportionately affect children.
Haugen explained, “I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy.”
She added, “I believe in the potential of Facebook, we can have social media we enjoy, that connects us without tearing apart our democracy, putting our children in danger, and sowing ethnic violence around the world. We can do better.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) observed during his opening remarks that predatory targeting and marketing practices by Facebook have “put profits ahead of people.”
Facebook Targets Children, Teens With Eating Disorders
A Wall Street Journal expose, which found that Facebook knew and hid information about the addictive nature of Facebook and its subsidiary social media platform Instagram, prompted the meeting. However, the conversation between Haugen and the subcommittee delved deeper into the company’s practices.
The whistleblower said that during her time at the company, she often saw the company faced with a choice between “its own profits and our safety.” When these conflicts arose, Haugen said, the company “consistently resolve[d] these conflicts in favor of its own profits.”
One such conflict, pointed out by Blumenthal, was the company’s intentional targeting of children.
Blumenthal said that as an experiment, he and his team put together an account on Instagram posing as a teenaged girl with an eating disorder. He said that Instagram’s algorithm quickly picked up on this, and showed content glorifying and encouraging disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
By Joseph Lord