“Whistleblower” Testifies to Senate Committee About Facebook’s Failures to Stop Bad Things

Report from the Wall Street Journal

In Brief – After Sunday appearances on 60 Minutes and an expose in the Wall Street Journal, Frances Haugen, the Facebook “Whistleblower”, appeared as the solo witness in a three-hour hearing of the Senate’s Consumer Protection Subcommittee. The former Facebook employee, who previously worked for Google, Pinterest and Yelp, downloaded thousands of internal documents on a wide range of controversial topics and shared them with the Journal, Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Subcommittee. Haugen detailed her views on the problems with Facebook’s business model, operations and leaders, and her support for government regulations and interventions to address the failings, including the role of algorithms, the nature of social media platforms, privacy, the global reach of Facebook, and mandating government and academic researcher access to Facebook data.

Context – The Senators did not add much. They all said Facebook is terrible. If there was agreement beyond that, it was on the issue of further regulating online services and kids, although the main idea on the table is to expand “kids” from the current age of below 13 up to those below 18. So, regulating teens online. Haugen was supportive. Haugen’s comments, overall, were lengthy, detailed and interesting. In short, she believes Facebook leaders cannot make the innumerable very hard choices that its platforms create. She argued only government regulators can be trusted. She even mentioned people like her, experts with experience inside the company, would serve in those entities. Tough questions that were not explored included whether her proposed rules and regulations would cover all social media, or even all companies using algorithms, and how that would work. Also, while there is bipartisan agreement that Facebook is awful, don’t expect a US Federal Digital Regulator soon. But in Europe, Haugen’s messages with resonate with advocates for the DSA and DMA.

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