Facebook’s new whistleblower renews review of social media giant

A data scientist named Frances Haugen has emerged as the whistleblower behind massive exposure to the inner workings of Facebook.

Before appearing on 60 minutes Haugen, a former employee of the social media giant, on Sunday kept her identity a secret after sharing thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents with media and federal law enforcement.

Haugen’s expected testimony this week, as well as the information she has shared so far, suggests that the company has misled the public and its investors about its ability to deal with hate speech and disinformation on its platform. -form.

“Facebook has shown time and time again that it values ​​profit over security,” she said in Sunday’s interview.

Haugen’s dump of documents, his scheduled testimony to Congress this week, and a series of ongoing investigative reports about the company are potentially pushing Facebook into its biggest crisis yet. The negative spotlight also comes as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill increasingly scrutinize Facebook’s actions.

Facebook files reveal major issues

Facebook released a lengthy statement from Director of Political Communications Lena Pietsch titled “Missing Facts from Tonight’s 60-Minute Segment.”

She highlighted Facebook’s investment in monitor harmful content; challenged the way Facebook’s own searches for adolescent mental health has been reported; and dismissed the claim that the social network promoted political polarization.

Recent reports from The Wall Street Journal had already put Facebook in the spotlight. Haugen shared thousands of Facebook documents with the newspaper that helped create the Facebook files series.

So far, the newspaper has revealed how information about COVID-19 vaccines has flourished on Facebook. He also indicated how separate rules would apply to celebrities and politicians on the site. Facebook allowed VIP users, for a time, to avoid penalties for bad behavior, according to the report.

Haugen also detailed how she said Facebook quickly disbanded its Civic Integrity Team – tasked with protecting the democratic process and combating disinformation – after the 2020 US election. January 6 uprising on the U.S. Capitol, in which organizers used Facebook to help plan.

“I don’t believe they’re willing to invest what needs to be invested to prevent Facebook from being dangerous,” Haugen said. 60 minutes.

Do you remember Cambridge Analytica?

Facebook started in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dormitory. Today, its value is estimated at 1,000 billion dollars. As he grows up so does his controversies.

The company suffered a massive backlash from users, politicians and regulators following the Cambridge Analytica debacle more than three years ago.

A whistleblower named Christopher Wylie was made public in 2018, exposing how millions of personal data of Facebook users were accessed, without users’ consent, by UK-based Cambridge Analytica. The now-defunct company used the information to try to influence several elections around the world, including Britain’s Brexit vote on leaving the European Union.

Three years later, Facebook, which maintained no responsibility for Cambridge Analytica’s transactions, came out of the entire episode relatively unscathed.

Facebook paid a $ 5 billion penalty to the Federal Trade Commission to resolve a major investigation into its privacy practices sparked by the scandal, plus £ 500,000 (approximately $ 643,000) British government fine. But critics said the FTC fine, as the biggest privacy settlement in the agency’s history, amounted to a slap on the wrist, given that it equated to about a month’s income. for Facebook.

In 2020, Facebook came under fire again for the way it regulates political ads and disinformation on its platform, but no regulatory changes have come from the criticism.

Lawmakers talk about regulation

After the broadcast of Haugen’s interview on 60 minutes, Connecticut, Senator Richard Blumenthal shared on twitter“Facebook’s actions make it clear that we cannot trust the police themselves. We need to consider tighter oversight, effective protections for children, and tools for parents, among the reforms needed.”

Patrick Semansky / AP

Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., (Top left) chats with Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., As Facebook’s global chief security officer Antigone Davis testifies virtually before Deputy Senate Trade, Science and Transportation Committee on consumer protection, product safety and data security during a hearing on online safety and children’s mental health Thursday in Washington.

For years, Congress has been stuck in an ongoing debate over how best to regulate Big Tech – even though Facebook says it welcomes the updated regulations.

In June, House lawmakers introduced sweeping antitrust reforms targeting Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bills, but they did not get to vote.

The scrutiny Facebook now faces could push lawmakers to act.

At a hearing last week, lawmakers examined claims that Facebook’s own internal research showed that its platforms were negatively affecting the mental health of millions of mostly teenage girls.

“These are the reports from your company. You knew it was there. You knew it was there, but you didn’t do anything about it,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Member ranks of the subcommittee, referring to internal documents on the prevalence of sex trafficking on Facebook.

Facebook said the research was taken out of context.

Haugen contacted state officials and the SEC

Other regulators are not waiting for Congress.

Facebook is facing an antitrust lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission, which requires the company to sell or separate Instagram and What’sApp.

With these latest allegations, Facebook may soon be facing heat from other regulators.

Haugen and her attorney John Tye said she has filed at least eight complaints with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

These complaints focus on the prevalence of hate speech on Facebook, the misrepresentation of the site’s role during the Capitol uprising, and the dangers children face at the site.

FILE - In this August 5, 2017, file photo of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission building in Washington.

Tye, who spoke to NPR, said the allegations implied the difference between what Facebook knew about its platform and what it said publicly. He said cheating on investors is a crime under US securities law.

Haugen’s documents were also shared with state attorneys general in California, Vermont, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Nebraska, Tye said The New York Times.

It is not known whether the SEC or state attorneys general plan to deal with Haugen’s complaints.

Editor’s Note: Facebook is one of the financial backers of NPR.

NPR’s Bobby Allyn and Shannon Bond contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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