The Facebook whistleblower who recently released many thousands of pages of internal research and documents to the Wall Street Journal and Securities and Exchange Commission testified Tuesday morning before the Senate Commerce sub-committee on consumer protection, product safety and data security.
Frances Haugen, who identified herself as the whistleblower on Sunday evening, spent the morning warning lawmakers that Facebook operates without oversight, telling them that even lawmakers do not have the information they would require to effectively regulate the tech giant.
Haugen, who said she is testifying today "at great personal risk," told the panel:
"I am here today because I believe that Facebook's products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy. The company's leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won't make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won't solve this crisis without your help."
By way of legislative assignment, Haugen told the panel that she would "strongly encourage" Congress to reform Section 230, specifically altering the liability standard of Big Tech platforms as it pertains to their algorithms, not exclusively their content. She added the idea of creating a federal oversight body to keep tabs on industry practices.
Haugen's most recent role at the company was on the Facebook counter-espionage team. She testified to the panel that, in many key departments, Facebook is chronically short-staffed which left her concerned that critical teams do not have to man-power to confront significant issues, including those pertaining to national security.
"My team directly worked on tracking Chinese participation on the platform, surveilling, say, Uyghur populations, in places around the world. You could actually find the Chinese based on them doing these kinds of things. We also saw active participation of, say, the Iran government doing espionage on other state actors," she said.
Haugen delivered a number of bombshell pieces of information to the committee – many of which have been detailed in the Wall Street Journal's ongoing series "The Facebook Files" – including the precise ill effects that some of the company's products have on consumers.
In particular, today's hearing focused on the well-being of children on the platform. When asked if Facebook (and subsidiary company Instagram) utilized its algorithm to push content that would promote eating disorders to young girls, Haugen replied:
"Facebook knows engagement-based ranking, the way they pick the content in Instagram for young users, for all users, amplifies preferences ... They've done something called a proactive incident response where they take things that they heard, for example, 'can you be led by the algorithms to anorexia content?' and they have literally recreated this experiment and confirmed yes, this happens to people."