Last month, a Facebook whistleblower working with the Wall Street Journal revealed startling internal Facebook documents outlining the extent to which the company prioritizes its own profits to the detriment of its users’ mental health and the overall health of our democracy. The whistleblower — Frances Haugen, revealed her identity in an interview on 60 Minutes and accused the company of prioritizing “growth over safety” while calling Facebook’s decision to eliminate systems designed to reduce misinformation after the 2020 election “a betrayal of democracy.” This week, Haugen will testify in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security about the impact of Facebook and Instagram on teenagers’ mental health, the company’s handling of children, and what Congress should do to protect children’s privacy and consumers online.
Ahead of the hearing, Decode Democracy Policy Director Ann Ravel issued the following statement:
“Taken on their own, the revelations from Facebook’s internal research are disturbing — including its harmful impact on teen mental health; its program allowing public figures to post dangerous and misleading content with impunity; its negligence in addressing the platform’s use to facilitate human trafficking; and its decision to reward outrageous content. Viewed as a whole, the “Facebook Files” reveal a recurring pattern of negligence and a deeply corrosive corporate culture.
“Because of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s bravery, we have proof that Facebook itself knows just how harmful its products are — yet still, the company has resisted addressing its core problems. The same algorithms and decision makers that are exacerbating mental health crises for teens are also driving a landscape of conspiracies, disinformation, and lies that are eroding trust in our democracy.
“With the spotlight as bright as ever, Facebook now faces a choice. It can continue to dodge responsibility and try to tell us all we’re not actually seeing what we’re seeing, or it can own up to the damage it’s caused and implement concrete changes in transparency, oversight, and data privacy. That starts with making its data easily accessible to academics and journalists; changing its algorithm to stop rewarding sensational content, and protecting the privacy of every user by default. But as we’ve seen over and over, no one — especially our lawmakers — should expect Facebook to follow through on its own. The time is now for Congress to usher in a new era that ensures our children’s health and the integrity of our democracy can’t be treated as collateral damage on the way to an investor report. It’s finally time for Facebook to be held accountable.”