Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen will testify before the Senate today
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
OK, the Facebook whistleblower, Francis Haugen, is right now testifying before a Senate subcommittee? A little bit earlier this morning, we spoke with Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is the chair of that subcommittee. And we asked what he made of Facebook's defense.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: You know, I'm tempted to do as I often did with a jury and say come back to Facebook's own words, the documents that tell its own story, the research it did, and the surveys that show it is polarizing, its algorithms have a divisive effect on people who use it, and the algorithms maximize that effect because it increases the number of users, which in turn maximizes profit. So it's a business model that Mark Zuckerberg has implemented very effectively and efficiently. He's the one who's making decisions here, with all due respect to others who may be spokesmen for the company. And he is the one who really should be looking in the mirror or more likely facing the public, coming to Congress and acknowledging the effect that Facebook is having. But their new policy, as has been reported, is no apologies, no acknowledgement and full speed ahead.
INSKEEP: I'm glad that you used the phrase looking in the mirror, because today you're going to ask about other leaked documents about Instagram, which is controlled by Facebook. There was a study, an internal study, that showed some people looked in the mirror and felt worse about themselves after staring at glamorous images on Instagram. And the study went on to say it's worse in this way in - on Instagram than other platforms. Let's listen to a little bit of Monika Bickert's response to that.
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MONIKA BICKERT: Anybody who thinks that we are prioritizing profits over safety should be asking themselves, why would we do research like this? The only reason is so that we can understand and do better.
INSKEEP: She said it's good they're doing this research and finding out these things. Do you see evidence, Senator, that Facebook is following up?
BLUMENTHAL: Facebook sought to conceal, absolutely hide the results of this research. It still is refusing to disclose it. The only reason we have it is because a whistleblower stepped forward bravely and courageously to speak truth to one of the most powerful, implacable corporate giants in the world that embarked on a policy of cover-up. So the research shows that Facebook not only made money from causing harm to children. It continued to do it after it learned of the harm, and it put its profit ahead of the pain it caused to people whose self-image, negative feelings about themselves, even suicidal tendencies were the result of these accounts on eating disorders, online bullying, self-injury, even suicide. And that is a searing indictment from their own words, their own research. And parents have written to me with heartbreaking stories, spine-chilling accounts of children who were pushed into eating disorders and bullied into threatening or even taking their own lives because of the algorithms pushing them to these recommended accounts.
INSKEEP: Senator, in just a few seconds here, Monika Bickert did say, we can't solve this problem alone. We welcome regulation. Do you plan to deliver regulation?
BLUMENTHAL: We will make every effort to pass a privacy bill, a bill that gives more tools to parents to protect their children, a bill that imposes legal accountability on Facebook and other tech platforms for the harm they cause and a bill also that enforces a larger social responsibility on companies that seem very much to fail to acknowledge that responsibility.
INSKEEP: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, thanks so much.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.