Pushed by a whistleblower, US parliamentarians promise to better regulate Facebook

Former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen was auditioned by Congress after her revelations about the giant’s practices to attract young users.

“Congress will act.” “It’s time.” Urged on Tuesday by a whistleblower, US senators promised to better regulate Facebook, worrying about the potentially harmful influence of its platforms on young users.

“Gone are the days when you invaded our privacy, promoted toxic content and used children and adolescents. Congress will act ”, launched Democratic Senator Ed Markey during the hearing of Frances Haugen, former product manager at Facebook. For more than two hours, this calm thirty-something has displayed with precision and intelligible some of the practices of the giant of Menlo Park (California) to attract young users and constantly increase their consumption of its platforms, Instagram in particular. . “You have been a catalyst for change like I have never seen before and I have been working on these subjects for 10 or 15 years”, commented Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.

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“We still have time to act”

“Facebook is stuck in a spiral from which they cannot escape” Frances Haugen, an engineer who left Facebook last May after two years with the company, explained to members of the Senate Committee on Commerce. “They hide this information because they feel stuck. (…) They have to admit that they have done wrong, that they need help. This is called moral bankruptcy. “

To back up her claims, she draws on the two years she spent with the company and the thousands of documents she took with her last spring. Already presented, in part, by the Wall Street Journal in mid-September, they show that Facebook researchers highlighted the fact that a portion of teenage Instagram users are even less comfortable with their bodies than they were before. “We still have time to act. But we have to do it now ”, she urged. And to add that “Facebook should not be left free to choose growth, virality (…) at the expense of public safety. (…) They finance their profits with our security. “

“Responsibility lies with Mark” Zuckerberg

The hearing of this 37-year-old computer scientist came the day after a gigantic blackout, unprecedented in the history of the group, which decommissioned its four platforms, the social networks Facebook and Instagram, as well as the WhatsApp and Messenger messengers. . Throughout the session, the shadow of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hovered over Congress, who had not yet spoken since the start of the scandal sparked by Frances Haugen. Several senators have publicly invited him to come and answer their questions. “Mark Zuckerberg has a unique role in the tech industry because he owns 55% of Facebook’s voting rights (58% actually). There is no such powerful company that is controlled so unilaterally. So in the end, the responsibility rests with Mark. And he’s not accountable to anyone. And Mark Zuckerberg is, in fact, the chief designer of the algorithms ”, the whistleblower said of her.

The co-founder and boss of the Facebook group finally reacted on Tuesday evening, to defend his company. “At the heart of these accusations is the idea that we prioritize profits over safety and well-being. This is simply not true ”, said Mark Zuckerberg in a lengthy post on his Facebook page. Taking many points from the whistleblower’s testimony, he retorted: “If we wanted to ignore research, why would we create a cutting edge curriculum to understand these important issues? If we don’t care about tackling harmful content, why would we hire so many dedicated people? ”.

Regarding the version of Instagram for those under 13, a project officially suspended at the end of September, the engineer explained that she did not see Facebook give up. “They need to make sure the next generation is just as invested in Instagram as they are today.” A Facebook spokesperson reacted on Twitter, pointing out that Frances Haugen had “Not worked on the protection of children (at Facebook) or on Instagram (…) and has no direct knowledge of these subjects coming from his work at Facebook”. Regarding the use of these two social networks by minors in general, France Haugen “Strongly recommends raising the age limit to 16 or 18 (against 13 currently for Facebook and Instagram)” specifying to rely on “Data on problematic use or addiction on the platform and the issue of children’s self-regulation.”

Disinformation filters removed

Frances Haugen also asserts that Facebook removed, after the US presidential election, filters against disinformation to encourage increased traffic to its platforms, which were then used by Internet users to prepare for the January 6 rally in Washington. which led to the intrusion of the Capitol. “I took the initiative (to testify) because I realized a frightening truth: hardly anyone outside of Facebook knows what is going on inside Facebook. Company management hides vital information from the public, the US government, its shareholders, and governments around the world. ” “Facebook must take responsibility for its choices”, she demanded, “Be ready to accept small compromises (likely to affect) its profits”.

Data protection agency

For the whistleblower, we must impose on Facebook more transparency and information sharing, with the help of a new regulator dedicated to internet giants, able to understand the complexity of these platforms. “It’s time to create a data protection agency and hold (the tech giants) to account”Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted Tuesday.

Facebook has stepped up efforts to try to contain the controversy. “If we were a company that doesn’t care about safety, that prioritizes profits, we wouldn’t be doing this kind of research.”, argued Monday Monika Bickert, vice president of Facebook, about internal studies showing in particular that the mental health of some young girls is affected by Instagram.

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