Sunday, December 5

Testimony of a Facebook Whistleblower Could Finally Spark Congressional Action | Facebook

The testimony of Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, is likely to increase pressure on US lawmakers to take concrete legislative action against the previously untouchable tech company, after years of hearings and circular discussions about the growing power of the great technologies.

In a hearing on Tuesday, the whistleblower shared internal Facebook reports with Congress, arguing that the company puts “astronomical profits over people,” harms children and destabilizes democracies.

After years of arguing about the role of tech companies in the last US election, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle appeared to agree Tuesday on the need for new regulations that would change the way Facebook targets users. and amplify the content.

“The testimony of Frances Haugen seems to mark a rare moment of bipartisan consensus that the status quo is no longer acceptable,” said Imran Ahmed, executive director of the Center to Counter Digital Hate, a nonprofit organization that fights against speech. hate and misinformation. “This is becoming more and more an apolitical issue and one that has definitely passed into the mainstream.”

On Wednesday morning, Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the Senate trade subcommittee that hosted Haugen the day before, condemned Facebook again in a television interview, but did not suggest what concrete steps Congress should take now.

“I hope there are more whistleblowers and more documents,” the Democratic senator told CNN’s New Day program in a live interview.

He added: “What she [Haugen] In essence, it shows how Facebook is amplifying and weaponizing hate speech, misinformation, but also the anxieties and insecurities of adolescents, particularly girls, negative self-image, eating disorders, online bullying, everything is there and I should spend more time looking at the platform. “

Blumenthal asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to “be honest” and said he will be called back to Congress to testify one more time in due course.

Throughout Tuesday morning, members of Congress questioned Haugen about what specifically could and should be done.

With 15 years in the industry as an algorithm and design expert, Haugen offered a number of suggestions, including changing news sources to be chronological rather than algorithmic, appointing a government body for technology oversight, and demanding more transparency in research. internal.

“I think the time has come to act,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar told Haugen. “And I think you are the catalyst for that action.”

Unlike past hearings, which were frequently derailed by partisan disputes, Tuesday’s questioning focused largely on the issues raised by Facebook’s opaque algorithmic formulas and how they harm children. These issues can unite Congress and there will be “a lot of bipartisan concern about this today and in future hearings,” said Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

“The recent revelations about the effects of Facebook on children’s mental health are really disturbing,” he said. “They just show how urgent it is for Congress to act against powerful tech companies, on behalf of children and the general public.”

Yet activists who have been calling on Congress to pass laws that protect children from the negative effects of social media are skeptical of such promises.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks to the media when she arrives for Tuesday's hearing.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks to the media when she arrives for Tuesday’s hearing. Photograph: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

“The bipartisan anger at Facebook is encouraging and totally justified,” said Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, an education and advocacy group. “The next step is to turn that bipartisan anger into bipartisan legislative action before the year is out.”

Exactly what needs to be done to regulate Facebook is up for debate. Senator Todd Young of Indiana asked Haugen if he believed breaking Facebook would solve these problems.

“In fact, I am against breaking Facebook,” Haugen said. “Monitoring and finding collaborative solutions with Congress will be key, because these systems will continue to exist and will be dangerous even if they break.”

Many laws introduced or discussed so far in Congress point to section 230, a part of the US Internet regulations that exempts platforms from legal responsibility for content generated by their users.

While some organizations, including Common Sense, are calling for section 230 reform, other advocates of internet freedom have warned that attacking that law could have unintended negative consequences for human rights, activism and freedom of expression.

“Haugen’s proposal to create a section 230 separation on algorithmic amplification would do more harm than good,” said Evan Greer, director of the activist group Fight for the Future. “His diet would become like Disneyland, where everything in it is sanitized, examined by lawyers and paid for by corporations.”

After the hearing, Facebook questioned Haugen’s characterizations. But the company said it agreed that more regulations were needed. “We agree on one thing. It’s time to start creating standard rules for the Internet, ”Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s director of policy communications, said in a statement. “It has been 25 years since the Internet rules were updated, and instead of waiting for the industry to make social decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act.”

Greer argued that Facebook was promoting changes in Internet laws in order to participate in the development of legislation that would greatly benefit large corporations.

Some members of Congress have proposed possible avenues of regulation that circumvent section 230 reform. Common Sense has asked Congress to pass the Advancing Research on Children and Media Act (Camra), which would authorize the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on the effects of social networks on children and adolescents.

Advocacy groups have also called on Congress to update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa), the primary mechanism for protecting children online.

The proposed changes would prevent companies from profiling teens and young people and ordering them with ads and content specifically designed to take advantage of their fears and insecurities.

“This is my message to Mark Zuckerberg: Your time to invade our privacy, promote toxic content, and prey on children and teens is over,” said Senator Ed Markey, author of one such bill, called the Children’s Act. “Congress will take action. We will not allow your company to continue to harm our children, our families and our democracy. “

The legislative impact of Haugen’s testimony has spread far beyond the US He has reportedly been in contact with the European Parliament and French government officials, an attorney for the whistleblower. told the Washington Post.

Haugen will also appear in front of British MPs on an unspecified date after the joint committee discusses a draft of the online security bill, which imposes a duty of care on social media companies to protect content users. harmful. She confirmed Monday that she would testify.

“Politics in Europe is different, and there are some things that the United States is very good at and there are some things that European lawmakers might have an easier time doing,” said John Tye, the attorney representing Haugen. “There are so many issues at stake, so many proposals on the table, so many different … Facebook stocks that are being scrutinized, it’s hard to predict where this could lead.”

Maya who contributed reporting

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