Whistleblower Accuses Facebook of Deceiving Public for Profit
WASHINGTON — A former Facebook product manager told a Senate panel Tuesday that the social media giant had the potential for great good but instead was focused only on its own profits.
“The choices being made inside of Facebook are disastrous,” said Frances Haugen.
She put much of the blame on Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, who holds 55 percent voting control over the company.
“The buck stops with him,” she said.
The Senate Commerce subcommittee called Haugen to testify after she released thousands of internal documents to federal regulators and The Wall Street Journal showing Facebook knew the societal harm some of its apps created.
It included helping political extremists to organize sometimes violent efforts. In addition, Facebook’s photo-sharing Instagram app sometimes compelled teenage girls to become depressed and suicidal through body shaming, Haugen said.
One of the internal documents she leaked showed 13.5% of teen girls said Instagram increased their suicidal thoughts while 17% said it made their eating disorders worse. The disorders included anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which are potentially fatal.
She accused Facebook executives of covering up the truth to maximize the number of their customers and their profits.
She was hired by Facebook in 2019 to oversee civic integrity, including “issues related to democracy and misinformation,” according to her personal website.
Initially Haugen chose to remain anonymous when she released the documents out of fear of reprisal by Facebook officials. She revealed her identity for the first time Sunday on CBS’s 60 Minutes television show.
She said the company could put algorithms into its software to block harmful content but refused to do so to avoid blocking some users and advertising revenue.
“Facebook has shown over and over again it puts profit before safety,” Haugen said on 60 Minutes.
Facebook officials responded with denials.
“I think that’s ludicrous,” said Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs at Facebook.
Facebook’s claims of innocence drew harsh words of skepticism during the hearing by the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety and data security.
“They continued their tactics even after they knew the disruption it caused,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the subcommittee chairman. “Their profit was more important than the pain it caused.”
He also warned of a backlash against Facebook and other big Internet companies.
“If they won’t act, and big tech won’t act, Congress will intervene,” Blumenthal said.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said about Facebook, “They knew what they were doing. They knew where the violations were.”
On Monday, Facebook was hit with a six-hour global shutdown that still is being looked into. Investigators initially said the outage appeared to come from an internal source that was suspicious in origin.