“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. I came forward because I believe that every human being deserves the dignity of truth.”
Ms. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, resigned in April and has since accused the company of willfully ignoring the negative impacts that the platform has on children.
Haugen, who was a product manager hired to help protect against election interference on Facebook, says she chose to act because she became frustrated by what she viewed as Facebook’s lack of openness about the platforms’ potential for harm and its refusal to address its flaws.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, the chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee, asked during Tuesday’s hearing if Facebook’s research ever found that its platform can have a negative effect on the mental health of children and teenagers. “Many of Facebook’s internal research reports indicate that Facebook has a serious negative harm on a significant portion of teenagers and young children,” replied Haugen.
She continued, “Facebook knows that its amplification algorithm, things like engagement-based ranking on Instagram, can lead children from innocent content centered around ‘Healthy Diets’ to content that promotes eating disorders like anorexia, over a very short period of time.”
Senator Blumenthal drew the comparison between Facebook and Instagram to what he witnessed as the former Attorney General spearheading the charge against “Big Tobacco”. He then proceeded to ask if Facebook ever found that teenagers/kids showed signs of addiction while using Instagram.
She responded, “Facebook has studied a pattern that they call ‘Problematic Use’, more commonly referred to as ‘addiction.’”
“Facebook understands that in order to grow they have to find new users. They must ensure that the next generation is just as engaged with Instagram as the current one and the way they’ll do that is by making children establish habits before they have good self-regulations by hooking kids”
Ms. Haugen proceeded to emphasize that one of the documents sent in regarding “Problematic Use” examined the rates of “Problematic Use” by age revealed that it peaked amongst 14-year-olds. “It is just like cigarettes; teenagers don’t have good self-regulation. They say explicitly ‘I feel bad when I use Instagram and I can’t stop’. We need to protect the kids.”
Ms. Haugen attested to those numerous initiatives led by Facebook’s integrity teams that were consistently “undone by new growth projects that counteract those remedies.” She added that Facebook teams are often too understaffed to adequately deal with the problems at hand, adding that she was on one team that could only handle a third of the cases in its queue.
When given the choice, Facebook leaders, she explained, tend to choose the path that preserved profits over the safety of its users. She said this was part of a corporate culture that Mr. Zuckerberg built at Facebook. Mr. Zuckerberg has majority voting control and serves as CEO and chairman of Facebook’s board, which makes him unusually powerful. “There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself,” described Ms. Haugen.
“Facebook knows its products can be addicting and toxic to children,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said, as he called on Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg to appear before Congress to testify, terming the company “morally bankrupt.”