Frances Haugen, a former
product engineer turned corporate whistleblower, testified before lawmakers for more than three hours on Tuesday. The Senate subcommittee hearing focused on the effect Facebook and its
photo-sharing service have on society, particularly young users.
Haugen, who leaked documents that were used in a series of Wall Street Journal articles on what Facebook knows about the damage its services cause, was praised by senators as a credible, knowledgable witness. The appearance of the 37-year-old, who was hailed as a "21st century American hero" by Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, brought politicians from both parties together in a rare moment of consensus. Democrats and Republicans, in an unusual display of bipartisan amity, agreed they must take action to corral Facebook and its impact on society.
Watch this: Facebook whistleblower reveals 'disastrous' inner workings of social network
The hearing created another public relations disaster for Facebook, which lost user confidence a day earlier when a suite of its key services went offline for much of the day. At one point, spokesman Andy Stone tried to cast doubt on Haugen's credibility by tweeting that she didn't work on child safety or Instagram while at the company. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican who's the ranking member of the subcommittee holding the hearing, quickly invited Stone to testify under oath.
What'll happen is anyone's guess. Senators championed a host of bills they support that are intended to address the influence of Big Tech.
Here are some of the most interesting comments from the hearing:
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat "
ought to be looking at himself in the mirror today. And yet, rather than taking responsibility and showing leadership, Mr. Zuckerberg is going sailing. His new modus operandi: No apologies, no admission, no action. Nothing to see here." (The senator appeared to be referencing a sailing video the Facebook CEO recently posted on Instagram as the controversy over Haugen's revelations grew.)
"Instagram's business model is pretty straightforward: more eyeballs, more dollars. Everything Facebook does is to add more users and keep them on their apps for longer."
Frances Haugen "I know that for more than five hours, Facebook wasn't used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies, and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies," Haugen said of Monday's widespread Facebook outage that lasted hours. "It also means the millions of small businesses weren't able to reach potential customers, and countless photos of new babies weren't joyously celebrated by family and friends around the world."
"Facebook wants you to believe that the problems we're talking about are unsolvable. They want you to believe in false choices. They want you to believe you must choose between a Facebook full of divisive and extreme content or losing one of the most important values our country was founded upon, free speech."
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican "Facebook is not interested in making significant changes to improve kids' safety on their platforms, at least not when that would result in losing eyeballs on posts or decreasing their ad revenues. In fact, Facebook is running scared as they know that, in their own words, young adults are less active and less engaged on Facebook, and that they are running out of teens to add to Instagram. So teens are looking at other platforms like TikTok, and Facebook is only making those changes that add to its users numbers, and ultimately, its profits. Follow the money."
Sen. Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat "Here's my message for Mark Zuckerberg: Your time of invading our privacy, promoting toxic content and preying on children and teens is over. Congress will be taking action. You can work with us or not work with us. But we will not allow your company to harm our children and our families and our democracy any longer."
"We owe you a huge debt of gratitude for what you're doing here today," Markey told Haugen.