Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

U.S. lawmakers pounded Facebook on Tuesday, accusing CEO Mark Zuckerberg of pushing for higher profits while being cavalier about user safety and they demanded regulators investigate whistleblower accusations that the social media company harms children and stokes divisions.

During a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, whistleblower Frances Haugen called for transparency about how Facebook entices users to extend their stay on the site, giving them ample opportunity to advertise to them.

“As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is unaccountable,” said Haugen, a former employee of the nearly $1 trillion company who turned whistleblower.

Story continues below advertisement

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed,” Haugen said.

In an era when bipartisanship is rare in Washington, lawmakers from both parties excoriated the company, illustrating the rising anger in Congress with Facebook amid numerous demands for legislative reforms.

Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican, said he was concerned about how Facebook and subsidiaries like Instagram affected the mental health of children. “I think we’re going to look back 20 years from now and all of us are going to be like ‘what the hell were we thinking?’”

Testifying before Congress, a former Facebook data scientist accused the company of being aware of apparent harm to some teens from Instagram and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation. The Associated Press

Haugen revealed she was the one who provided documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teenage girls. She compared the social media sites to addictive substances like tobacco and opioids.

Panel chair Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said Facebook knew that its products were addictive. “Tech now faces that big tobacco jaw-dropping moment of truth,” he said.

He called for Zuckerberg to testify before the committee, and for the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company.

“Our children are the ones who are victims. Teens today looking in the mirror feel doubt and insecurity. Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror,” Blumenthal said.

Story continues below advertisement

Blumenthal said after the hearing that he would want to ask Zuckerberg why he rejected recommendations to make the company’s products safer for users.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen departs during a break in testifying before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/Reuters

SHARES UP

Despite the criticism, Facebook’s share price was up 2.2% at $333.43 in the mid-afternoon on Tuesday.

Coming a day after Facebook suffered an hours-long outage, Haugen pointed to the breakdown in her testimony: “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.”

As lawmakers criticized Facebook and Zuckerberg, the company’s spokespeople fought back on Twitter, arguing Haugen did not work directly on some of the issues she was being questioned on.

Haugen, a former product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team, left the company with tens of thousands of confidential documents.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, accused Facebook of turning a blind eye to children below age 13 on its sites. “It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

Lena Pietsch, a Facebook spokeswoman, disputed Haugen’s knowledge of the company’s inner workings. “We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about,” Pietsch said in a statement.

Last week, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, defended the company in front of Congress and said that it was seeking to release additional internal studies in an effort to be more transparent about its findings.

Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Commerce Committee, said she would write a letter to Facebook to insist that it not delete documents related to Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority Rohingya. An aide said she would ask for broader retention of documents.

Haugen said she would encourage “oversight and public scrutiny” into how the content algorithms work and the consequences of them. She suggested creating a dedicated body within the federal government to oversee social media companies.

Blumenthal said that he might want to hold an additional hearing to discuss national security issues related to Facebook.

Haugen said Facebook had also done too little to prevent its site from being used by people planning violence.

Story continues below advertisement

Facebook was used by people planning mass killings in Myanmar and the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump who were determined to toss out the 2020 election results.

Senator Edward Markey, speaking to the absent Zuckerberg, said during the hearing: “Your time of invading our privacy, and preying on children is over. Congress will be taking action.”

Throughout the hearing lawmakers referred to Zuckerberg as going sailing instead of facing his responsibilities. The CEO this weekend posted a video taken with the company’s new smart glasses of his wife in a boat.

A Facebook whistle-blower on Oct. 3 accused the social media giant of repeatedly prioritizing profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation, and said her lawyers have filed at least eight complaints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Libby Hogan reports. Reuters

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies