Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in early October. She appeared before lawmakers after making available a large number of internal Facebook documents to reporters. Stories based on the leaked research materials appeared in The Wall Street Journal and CBS’s 60 Minutes before Haugen’s testimony. The former Facebook whistleblower alleged that the company knows exactly how toxic its social networks can be. Its algorithms push unsafe content to increase online engagement and drive up ad sales, she explained.
Haugen will return on Wednesday to Congress to testify again on Facebook as lawmakers discuss possible changes to Section 230.
Facebook’s reaction to whistleblower revelations
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg reacted to the testimony in writing but did not appear before Congress himself. The company largely denied Haugen’s allegations despite what seemed to be plenty of compelling evidence against Facebook. Weeks later.
Zuckerberg & Co. change the name of the Facebook company to Meta. He said that the recent scandals did not play a role in the decision to rebrand, as Facebook wants to focus on the metaverse going forward. Meta is the new name of the enterprise formerly known as Facebook. But the name change did not make Meta’s Facebook problems go away.
After the rebrand to Meta, the company started taking steps towards “fixing” Facebook’s reputation. But they’re timid steps that don’t make up for the alleged algorithm choices meant to polarize online discussion.
Facebook has announced it won’t be using face recognition features just a few days ago. Then, it revealed it might give users more control over the News Feed. But these moves aren’t likely to impress regulators from wanting to know more about how Facebook operates.
Why is Frances Haugen returning to Congress?
On top of talking to Congress and the media, Haugen filed eight complaints with the SEC of her discoveries at Facebook. Her next appearance before Congress will likely be tied to her time at Facebook.
House Democrats announced that the Facebook whistleblower would testify before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology. The point of the hearing is to discuss “targeted reforms” to Section 230. That’s oft-cited legislation that protects internet companies, including Facebook, for the potentially harmful user-generated content that might appear on these websites.
Lawmakers, including committee members, have introduced proposals to amend Section 230 so that internet companies could be liable for content that leads to offline violence.
Joining Frances Haugen on Wednesday’s panel are Color of Change president Rashad Robinson and an unnamed witness for Republicans. A second panel will feature expert witnesses from the Free Press Action and Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.
Meta will not have a representative during Wednesday’s panels. But Congress demanded that Mark Zuckerberg or Instagram’s Adam Mosseri testify after hearing Haugen’s version of events in early October. The Instagram chief will appear before the Senate Commerce Committee the week of December 3rd.