Whistleblower Frances Haugen calls Facebook danger to children and democracy
She said it knows its algorithms are harmful but puts "profits before people."
A Senate subcommittee on Tuesday heard from a whistleblower who claims Facebook manipulated content it knew was harmful to young users, a day after the social media giant experienced an apparently unrelated massive outage.
Frances Haugen, who revealed her identity during a Sunday interview on CBS' "60 Minutes," has been cooperating with a Senate Commerce subcommittee as part of its ongoing efforts to assess potential regulation of the platform. Haugen told lawmakers on Tuesday about documentation she said show the company -- and CEO Mark Zuckerberg -- intentionally ignored proof of its potentially harmful impact on users.
Facebook has publicly disputed Haugen's claims.
- Facebook responds to hearing in statement
- Hearing adjourns with plea for more whistleblowers to speak out
- Blackburn blasts Facebook spokesperson, challenges him to testify
- Whistleblower blasts Facebooks for lack of transparency when 'lives are on the line'
- Lawmakers raise having 2nd hearing on Haugen's national security concerns
Key takeaways from Senate testimony
Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, hailed by bipartisan lawmakers, alleged on Tuesday blatant disregard from Facebook executives when they learned their platforms could have harmful effects on foreign democracies and the mental health of children.
"Facebook has not earned our blind faith," Haugen said in her opening statement before lawmakers. "There is a pattern of behavior that I saw [at] Facebook: Facebook choosing to prioritize its profits over people."
"You can declare moral bankruptcy, and we can figure out a fix [to] these things together, because we solve problems together," she said later on.
Although senators from both parties appeared to support her calls to regulate Facebook, how and when that might happen was unclear.
Minutes after her testimony, Facebook issued a statement attempting to discredit Haugen, stating that she worked for the company "for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives -- and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question."
Click here for some key takeaways from Tuesday's hearing.
-ABC News' Victor Ordoñez
Facebook responds to hearing in statement
Facebook director of policy communications Lena Pietsch released a statement following whistleblower Frances Haugen's testimony, attempting to discredit her knowledge of the company.
"Today, a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives – and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question. We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about," Pietsch wrote.
"Despite all this, we agree on one thing; it’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet. It’s been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act," the statement finished.
Multiple times during the hearing, lawmakers invited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and communications spokespersons to appear before Congress and testify themselves.
Zuckerberg has remained silent on Haugen's allegations for days, and multiple senators mocked the billionaire over recent social media posts of him out sailing instead.
-ABC News' Zunaira Zaki
Hearing adjourns with plea for more whistleblowers to speak out
After more than three hours of testimony, the Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who has accused the company of deceiving users and investors and putting "profits before people," has adjourned.
While lawmakers battle it out over President Joe Biden’s agenda, they united on Tuesday to blast Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s silence on Haugen accusations, which raise alarms about the mental health of children and real-world dangers of hate speech she said Facebook knows it perpetuates but ignores. Lawmakers said she has provided hundreds of pages of documents of internal data to back her claims.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the subcommittee chair, closed by reading a text he said he received from a constituent who said he was in tears watching the hearing because, he said, he's seen first-hand how Instagram has changed his teenage daughter.
"'My 15-year-old daughter loved her body at 14. Was on Instagram constantly and maybe posting too much. Suddenly she started hating her body. Her body dysmorphia, now anorexia, and was in deep deep trouble before we found treatment. I fear she'll never be the same,'" Blumenthal said, quoting the father.
Haugen said "because of the nature of engagement-based ranking and amplification of interests," Facebook and Instagram users are "pushed towards extreme dieting and pro-anorexia content very rapidly" -- but that the algorithm perpetuating that could be changed.
After raising new allegations concerning Zuckerberg’s actions, national security concerns, and employee bonuses tied to a system shown to fuel misinformation, Haugen closed with a call to Congress to address Facebook’s growth and provide oversight as it’s historically done for other industries, like tobacco, in the past.
Saying that modern technological systems "walled off," Haugen also called on more whistleblowers with direct knowledge of wrongdoings in big tech to step forward.
"The fact we're being asked these false choices -- it's just an illustration of what happens when the real solutions are hidden inside of companies," she said. "We need more tech employees to come forward through legitimate channels, like the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) or Congress, to make sure that the public has the information they need in order to have technologies be human-centric, not computer central."
Blackburn blasts Facebook spokesperson, challenges him to testify
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate subcommittee hearing testimony from the Facebook whistleblower on Tuesday, responded directly to a Facebook spokesperson after a compelling first round of testimony from Frances Haugen.
Andy Stone had tweeted earlier and pointed out that Haugen did not work on child safety or Instagram research issues. Haugen, who worked as a project data manager was assigned to Facebook's civic integrity group.
Blackburn blasted Stone to come before Congress himself.
"I will simply say this to Mr. Stone: If Facebook wants to discuss their targeting of children -- if they want to discuss their practices, privacy invasion or violations of the Children Online Privacy Act, I am extending to you an invitation to step forward, be sworn in and testify before this committee. We would be pleased to hear from you and welcome your testimony," she said.