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Whistleblower to Senate: Facebook is ‘morally bankrupt’ and ‘disastrous’ for democracy

October 5, 2021, 5:03 PM UTC

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen described her former employer as “morally bankrupt” and urged senators during an explosive hearing on Tuesday to solve the “crisis” that the company has created.

“The choices being made inside of Facebook,” Haugen said, are “disastrous for our children, our privacy, and our democracy.” 

During the highly anticipated hearing, the former Facebook product manager who worked with the company’s civic integrity team told the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security that Facebook was fully aware that its algorithm could quickly steer children from something as innocuous as healthy recipes to pro-anorexia content. 

Haugen, who said she feared Facebook could use its resources to “destroy” her for coming forward, noted that the company regularly put profits ahead of user safety: “The result has been a system that amplifies division, extremism, and polarization—and undermines societies around the world.” 

While Congress has previously held hearings on Facebook and its impact on public safety, Haugen brings a new element to them because of her inside knowledge of the organization and a willingness to share information that has never been aired. Before resigning from Facebook in April, Haugen downloaded a trove of internal documents involving Facebook research that she shared with senators. 

“There is nobody currently holding Zuckerberg accountable but himself,” Haugen said on Tuesday, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “The buck stops with Mark.”

Last month, the Wall Street Journal published a series of articles based off of the documents provided by Haugen. The series focused on Facebook’s decisions to highlight hate speech and to push products that are harmful to teens. On Sunday, Haugen revealed her identity publicly in a 60 Minutes interview, during which she said that she had worked at Google, Yelp, and Pinterest, but had never seen a company with worse problems than Facebook. 

“I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: Almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook,” Haugen said in her prepared remarks to the subcommittee. “The company’s leadership keeps vital information from the public, the U.S. government, its shareholders, and governments around the world.”

In order to continue to grow, said Haugen, Facebook understands that it must compel users to share contentious and “twitchy” posts, and that the company’s leaders quickly took down safeguards after the 2020 elections in order to do that. The Jan. 6 riot, which followed shortly thereafter and was largely organized on Facebook, was proof that they took down the safeguards too quickly, she said.

“This is wrong,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in a tweet in response to the claim. “We left a number of the measures on through [Jan. 6], added additional measures following the violence at the Capitol, and made some of the changes-like not recommending political groups-permanent. Again, Ms. Haugen didn’t work on these efforts – but these are facts.”

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