Frances Haugen, Facebook’s worst nightmare? 1:08
(CNN Spanish) – Facebook is no stranger to Capitol Hill. Its executives have been repeatedly summoned for hearings amid the social media giant’s various scandals, as have other company experts. But Tuesday’s hearing was highlighted by the strong performance of witness Frances Haugen.
The former Facebook employee explained to the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security her vast knowledge of the internal workings of the company thanks to her previous work and the thousands of pages of internal documents that she reviewed and shared with the legislators. Haugen explained the technical workings of Facebook platforms in a professional and uncomplicated manner, citing examples of the actual damage they can cause.
Facebook’s products “harm children, fuel division and weaken our democracy,” putting profit before moral responsibility, he told lawmakers. Although Haugen was very critical of Facebook, she was constructive and even hopeful.
“These problems can be solved. It is possible to create social networks that are safer, that respect freedom of expression and that are more enjoyable,” Haugen said. “Facebook can change, but it clearly will not do it on its own. … Congress can change the rules that Facebook follows and stop the much damage it is causing.”
The hearing came as Facebook already faces increasing regulatory scrutiny and calls to split the company. In fact, criticism of the company is a rare point of bipartisan agreement among lawmakers, and his testimony this week can only contribute to the consensus that Facebook should be controlled by legislation.
“An American Hero of the 21st Century”
Haugen’s testimony was clearly persuasive to members of the sub-commission, who repeatedly praised her as a hero and vowed to try to protect her from possible retaliation by Facebook. They made it clear that they would like to have her back to offer more testimony, and possibly bring Zuckerberg in for a hearing.
“She is an American hero of the 21st century,” Senator Ed Markey told her. “Our nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to you for the courage you are showing here today.”
Unlike some Facebook executives who have testified before Congress, Haugen did not appear to withhold information in hopes of protecting the company’s reputation. And unlike Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica data analyst who denounced the Facebook scandal, Haugen was able to take advantage of work experience within Facebook. Additionally, while Haugen was working to fix Facebook’s problems as a member of its civic integrity team, Wylie had been directly involved in the problematic work Cambridge Analytica did using Facebook data.
In explaining and critiquing how Facebook platforms work, Haugen put his extensive experience working in technology to use. After studying electrical and computer engineering, followed by an MBA at Harvard, Haugen worked at several tech companies before Facebook, including Google, Pinterest, Yelp, and the dating app Hinge. He specializes in “algorithmic product management” and has worked on several ranking algorithms similar to the one Facebook uses to organize its main newsfeed, he said in his testimony.
Haugen made specific recommendations on how Facebook could change its platforms – or how regulators could create laws to force Facebook to do so – including how to move away from algorithms that rank content based on engagement and popularity-based measures such as ratings. ‘likes’ and comments from Instagram.
It was refreshing to get away from the usual verbiage that comes from Facebook-related audiences, which usually turn into debates about censorship, prejudice, and misinformation. Rather than focus on the conflict over how Facebook should handle different types of content, Haugen delved into the algorithms that emerge from that content and how they work.
Facebook to the limit
Facebook made repeated attempts to discredit Haugen before, during and after his testimony.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said on Twitter during the hearing: “I only point to the fact that @FrancesHaugen did not work on or research child safety or Instagram and has no direct knowledge of the issue from his work on Facebook.” The company’s statement after the hearing also tried to portray her as an employee with a short tenure, with no direct reporting or high-level involvement, and said she testified on an issue in which she was not involved.
Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management, said in an interview with CNN – after the hearing – that there were “mischaracterizations” of the documents Haugen referenced during the hearing, calling them “stolen documents.”
And on Tuesday night, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a 1,316-word statement on his Facebook page criticizing the testimony. Zuckerberg said he believed the testimony in general created a “false image of the company” and also said that technology companies “should create experiences that meet” the needs of young people “while keeping them safe.”
Haugen herself repeatedly acknowledged during her testimony that she did not work directly on child safety issues and instead only cited information she learned from Facebook’s own internal investigation documents that she claimed were “freely available to anyone in the community. company”. Haugen also admitted when the questions were out of his reach and declined to answer them.
Facebook’s early efforts to snub Haugen failed to impress those in the audience. Sen. Marsha Blackburn mentioned Stone’s tweet during the hearing and said: “If Facebook wants to discuss their targeting of children, if they want to discuss their practices, privacy violations or violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, let them I extend an invitation to step forward, take the oath, and testify before this commission. “
A whistleblower who wants to fix Facebook
In a press call after the hearing, the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Richard Blumenthal, said he found Haugen’s comments “compelling” and “credible.”
“Frances Haugen wants to fix Facebook, not burn it,” Blumenthal said.
Indeed, that may be one of Haugen’s greatest assets as a trusted witness: He repeatedly told lawmakers that he was there because he believes in Facebook’s potential for good, if the company is able to address its dire problems. Haugen even said that he would go back to work for Facebook if given the chance. He also said he is against Facebook splitting up, instead emphasizing collaborative solutions with Congress. Otherwise, “these systems will continue to exist and will be dangerous even if they break down.”
Haugen suggested that Congress give Facebook a chance to “file for moral bankruptcy and we can find a way to fix these things together.” When asked to clarify what he meant by “moral bankruptcy,” Haugen said he envisioned a process like financial bankruptcy where there is a “mechanism” to “forgive” them and “move on.”
“Facebook is stuck in a feedback loop that they can’t get out of … they need to admit that they did something wrong and they need help solving these problems. And that’s what moral bankruptcy is,” he said.
This is likely not the last time Haugen will testify before Congress. During the hearing, he said his time working on counterespionage issues at Facebook raised “strong national security concerns about how Facebook operates today.”
Blumenthal suggested that these national security concerns could be the subject of a future commission hearing.
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