Facebook Whistleblower Testifies In Front Of Congress
/ CBS Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, on Tuesday testified before Congress after already releasing documents that alleged the company was aware of the problems that Facebook and Instagram have caused, including the effects on teenage girls.
"It's just like cigarettes: Teenagers don't have good self regulation," said Haugen. "They say explicitly 'I feel bad when I use instagram and yet I can't stop.'"
Haugen compared Facebook to tobacco companies trying to lure in teens and maximize profits, no matter what the emotional or mental cost. She blamed the app for directing kids from healthy eating recipes to anorexia, prompting suicidal thoughts and bullying.
"Kids who are bullied on Instagram, the bullying follows them home, it follows them into their bedrooms," said Haugen. "The last thing they see before they go to bed at night is someone being cruel to them."
Haugen says that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the company's ultimate decider.
"Mark holds a very unique role in the tech industry. There are no similarly powerful companies that are as unilaterally controlled," she said.
Tuesday night Zuckerberg posted a lengthy statement on his Facebook page saying in part that "at the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being. That's just not true. The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical." Zuckerberg goes on to say that advertisers don't want their ads next to harmful angry content.
"I'm grateful that [Haugen] came forward," says Nicolle Fefferman, a Southland parent and high school teacher. She says the whistleblower testimony is important, but not surprising information to many parents and teachers.
"This is what we've been seeing in our classrooms, this is what we've been seeing in our homes," said Fefferman. "This is not surprising."
Dr. Adolph Brown, a clinical psychologist, says that "the issue is the emotional amount of emotional investment that the teens put into these things."
"If they're deprived from signing on or being a part of it, it creates anxiety, and when they do sign on it become a part of it, it can create the same type of anxiety and depression," said Brown.
When asked if she would believe what Facebook is saying, were she a member of the panel, Haugen responded saying that "Facebook has not earned our right to just have blind trust in them."
There does seem to be bipartisan support in acting on protecting children from social media companies, but it's unclear what that will look like.
"It's a really complicated issue because most of the federal regulations were passed when the internet was either not even envisioned or in its absolute infancy," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School. "Now we do have some paradigms that we could use. We have for instance, regulated television and radio, there are differences obviously because of licensing."
Haugen also has filed complaints with federal authorities, alleging that Facebook's own research shows that it amplifies hate, misinformation and political unrest, but the company hides what it knows.
LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino introduced a motion on Tuesday to have the city divest from Facebook, because of privacy concerns and correlations with depression and anxiety.
"Facebook was built to bring us closer together, but it is tearing our world apart," Buscaino said in a statement. "Despite knowing that using their platform leads to deteriorating mental health in kids and teens, Facebook continues to focus their efforts on bringing pre-teens and teens to their platform. This is one of many reasons why the city of Los Angeles should divest itself from Facebook."
The motion was seconded by Council President Nury Martinez, Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez and Councilmen Gil Cedillo and Paul Koretz. It calls for the city's three pension fund systems, along with any other city investment entity, to divest from Facebook.
The motion cites an internal Instagram presentation that said that 32% of teen girls say that when they have felt badly about their bodies, the feeling was exacerbated by Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
"Instagram makes body image issues worse for one in three girls; teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. These assertions have been proven by Facebook's in-house analysts," the motion said.
Buscaino also expressed concerns about privacy in his motion, citing media reports that found the platform collects personal information online from children under the age of 13.
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