WASHINGTON - One day after being hit with a system wide outage, Facebook is once again facing scrutiny.
Frances Haugen, a former employee at the company, testified before Congress on Tuesday, telling lawmakers that the social media giant was turning a blind eye to the harm it had been causing to children and society at large, in order to keep pulling in record profits.
"I am here today because I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy," said Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager. "The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes, because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help."
Haugen who first joined Facebook in 2019, after stints at Google and Pinterest, told lawmakers that the "buck stops with mark," a reference to Zuckerberg’s controlling stake in the company’s voting shares. Haugen arrived at Capitol Hill after leaking tens of thousands of pages of internal company documents, all secretly copied before leaving her position in Facebook’s Civic Integrity Unit.
"The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems, and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages."
Among the allegations levied by Haugen, that Facebook contributed to the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol. Haugen testified that Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and incitement to violence after President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year.
In terms of the company's alleged impact on Facebook's products on children, the former employee took aim at Facebook's use of algorithms in its apps, including Instagram, which she said exposed younger users to harmful content.
"Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content," said Haugen.
In one internal study, 17% of teen girls pointed to Instagram as a factor behind eating disorders. An additional 13% said that the platform was contributing to suicidal thoughts. The push for further oversight of Facebook has received early bipartisan support.
"Big tech is facing its big tobacco moment," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
"I think there are some transparency issues that we can address that don't step on people's first amendment rights," added Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota.
Facebook meanwhile, pushed back on some of the allegations on Tuesday, and pointed out that Blaugen, "...worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives..." Still, the Menlo Park based company agreed, "It’s time to begin to create standard rules for the Internet."
As the Senate continues to examine Facebook’s handling of information compiled by its own research, one suggestion floated by Haugen was to increase the Minimum age for Instagram from 13 years old to 16 or 18.