Facebook Whistleblower To Testify In UK Parliament

Evil parliament (c) pisaphotography, Shutterstock 2014

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is to travel across the pond and testify before a committee in the British Parliament

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is to appear before British MPs in a parliamentary committee meeting later this month.

“Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower and former product manager at the company, will give evidence to the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill on Monday 25 October from 2.30pm,” Parliament announced in a statement.

Haugen’s appearance before British lawmakers comes after the former Facebook executive testified before the US Senate in Washington DC on 5 October, amid allegations that Facebook knew Instagram was harming teenagers.

Parliamentary appearance

She told a Senate panel last week that leadership at Facebook prioritises “profits before people,” and she called on US lawmakers to intervene.

Haugen’s appearance in Parliament will be the first public evidence she will give in Europe regarding her experiences at the company, and her ideas to regulate social media.

“Frances Haugen’s evidence has so far strengthened the case for an independent regulator with the power to audit and inspect the big tech companies,” said Damian Collins MP, chair of the committee.

“Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg have complained that she has only presented a partial view of the company, whereas they want to stop any insights into how the company manages harmful content to get into the public domain, unless they have personally approved them,” said Collins.

“There needs to be greater transparency on the decisions companies like Facebook take when they trade off user safety for user engagement,” said Collins. “We look forward to discussing these issues with Frances Haugen.”

Her evidence will inform the Committee’s work in shaping the Online Safety Bill, legislation aimed at regulating social media, that will be put before Parliament for approval in 2022.

It includes the possibility of stiff fines of up to 10 percent of annual global revenue or £18 million ($24 million), whichever is higher.

Zuckerberg refusal

It should be remembered that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg did not endear himself to the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) committee in 2018, when Zuckerberg refused to appear before the Parliamentary committee in the wake of Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal.

Zuckerberg’s refusal angered the committee, especially after Damian Collins MP, who headed the committee, had written to Zuckerberg personally, requesting that he appear.

Zuckerberg decided instead to send his chief technical officer, Mike Schroepfer, to appear before the DCMS.

And to rub salt into the wounds, Zuckerberg opted to appear before the European Parliament as well as US lawmakers on multiple occasions.

European invitation

Haugen has also been invited by EU lawmakers to appear at a 8 November hearing on whistleblowers in tech.

At the time of writing, it is not clear if she has accepted their request.

“Whistleblowers like Frances Haugen show the urgent need to set democratic rules for the online world in the interest of users,” Anna Cavazzini, chair of the European Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee, said in a statement on Monday.

“Her revelations lay bare the inherent conflict between the platform’s business model and users’ interests,” Cavazzini added. “It shows that we need strong rules for content moderation and far-reaching transparency obligations in Europe.”

The EU said that all allegations in the ‘Facebook Files’ must be investigated.

“As the Internal Market Committee is currently negotiating the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, a public hearing with Frances Haugen will enrich the democratic discourse and our current legislative work in the committees concerned,” the parliament said.

How it all began

The latest furore began a few weeks ago, when the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on leaked internal research from Facebook which suggested that Instagram had a harmful effect on teenagers, particularly teen girls.

Days after that, the head of Instagram confirmed it was ‘pausing’ the development of the “Instagram Kids” app.

The WSJ report gained the attention of US Senators, and Facebook was forced to publicly defend itself. It labelled the WSJ allegation “simply not accurate”.

A Facebook executive found herself defending the firm in Washington, and she told US senators that the firm would not prosecute the, as then unidentified whistleblower.

Frances Haugen then appeared on Sunday on the CBS television program “60 Minutes,” revealing her identity as the whistleblower who provided the documents that underpinned the WSJ investigation.

Frances Haugen worked as a product manager on the civic misinformation team at Facebook before she resigned in May, and she reportedly left the firm with thousands of pages of internal research documents.

During that TV interview, Haugen accused the social media giant of repeatedly prioritising profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation.

She also alleged that Facebook had failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitancy and was aware that Instagram harmed the mental health of teenage girls.

She repeated much of these allegations in her testimony to the US Senate. She alleged that Facebook has taken limited action to address existing misinformation, and only removes as little as 3 to 5 percent of hate speech.

Additionally, Haugen alleged the company falsely told advertisers they had done all they could do to prevent the US Capitol insurrection on 6 January.

Despite Facebook’s claims that they “remove content from Facebook no matter who posts it, when it violates our standards,” Haugen alleged that “in practice the ‘XCheck’ or ‘Cross-Check’ system effectively ‘whitelists’ high-profile and/or privilege users.”

She also alleged Facebook’s research also claims that its own platforms “make body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.”

She also alleged that Facebook knows its platforms enable human exploitation.

False picture

Mark Zuckerberg then publicly responded and rejected Frances Haugen’s testimony that Facebook puts profits before people’s safety, and said many of her allegations don’t make sense.

He said that the allegations are painting a “false picture” of Facebook and that her allegations are “just not true.”

But with no sign that the latest Facebook fire is dying down, the network’s chief spokesperson Nick Clegg at the weekend said the social media firm would introduce new features to nudge teens away from harmful content.

It will also try and encourage users spending long periods of time on Instagram to “take a break.”