On Oct. 5, former Product Manager at Facebook Frances Haugen gave a testimony before Congress, claiming that Facebook promotes unsafe spaces in order to boost engagement. In her opening remarks, Haugen said, “I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.”
Over the past few months, Facebook has been under fire for harming teenagers’ mental health and deepening political polarization through the promotion of seemingly perfect bodies and the spread of misinformation, respectively. According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook sites have been used to share anti-COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Additionally, Facebook disbanded its committee in charge of tackling misinformation just before the Jan. 6 insurrection.
However, this is not the first time a Facebook scandal has appeared in the media. In 2018, a whistleblower named Chris Wylie exposed Facebook for using a firm called Cambridge Analytica to access users’ personal data without their consent. This information was then used to influence elections around the world, including the Brexit vote. And yet, Facebook walked away from the scandal relatively unscathed, paying only about a month in revenue as a fine.
Since then, Facebook began developing “Instagram Kids,” a social media platform for kids below age 13. However, a congressional hearing in late September concluded that Facebook was aware of the harmful mental health effects that Instagram had on teenage girls. In the face of criticism, the company paused development despite believing that “building it is the right thing to do,” according to Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri.
These scandals drove Haugen to release thousands of pages of internal documents, suggesting that Facebook lied to the public about its regulations on hate speech and misinformation. Before appearing in an interview on “60 Minutes,” Haugen had kept her identity as the whistleblower a secret out of fear. However, she decided to try to work with the federal government and law enforcement to expose Facebook’s secrets and improve the company. “Facebook over and over again has shown it chooses profit over safety,” she said during the interview on “60 Minutes.”
Almost a week after the congressional hearing, Head of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence on the scandal, claiming her assertions were “pretty easy to debunk.” And yet, many federal officials, in a bipartisan effort, want to see more regulations on Facebook. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Richard Blumenthal are among many congresspeople who are calling on Facebook to protect its users.
As of Oct. 12, a second whistleblower, former Facebook Data Scientist Sophie Zhang is willing to testify in front of Congress. Zhang has since passed on internal documentation to an unidentified U.S. law enforcement agency.
And yet, Facebook’s investors and advertisers did not flee after Haugen’s testimony. However, some things may change for the company. Many people have now prevented tracking across websites, making it harder for Facebook advertisers, causing Facebook to expect a revenue hit. Additionally, European officials are pushing for regulations and the company may find trouble in recruiting quality tech workers despite its prestige.