A former engineer at Facebook denounced Tuesday during a hearing before the US Congress the abuses of the web giant, citing, among other things, the “harmful effects” of its platforms on the mental health of young people and adolescents without nothing is done to remedy it.
Whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former project manager at the group, leaked internal documents showing how the Instagram app, which is owned by Mark Zuckerburg’s company, she said led to depression and the anxiety in many adolescents. Facebook will not pass its “astronomical profits to the detriment of the public”, she insisted, believing that the intervention of Congress is necessary. For her, “Facebook must accept the consequences of its choices” largely decided by her boss.
Facebook “has repeatedly misled the public” about the safety of children, the reliability of artificial intelligence systems and the spread of conflicting and extreme messages, she said.
“I came forward because I believe that every human being deserves the dignity of the truth,” she said. In her testimony, the former employee said, nevertheless, to continue to believe that this platform can serve as a “force for good”. Ms Haugen “has energized and emboldened efforts to protect children and hold Facebook to account,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the Senate consumer protection subcommittee, said on Monday. The hearing is a “decisive day in the fight against the destructive damage and cover-up of Facebook,” he said at a time when members of the US Congress, Democrats and Republicans, have tried for several years to regulate the big tech companies.
Facebook disputed the accusations made in the documents unveiled by its ex-employee and taken up by the media.
“It is not correct that leaked internal research shows that Instagram is” toxic “to teenage girls,” Facebook said in a statement.
The charges against Instagram sparked an update to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a 1998 law governing websites that collect data about children. The law, known as Coppa, has been widely criticized as unsuitable for the age of social media.
The Senate hearing on Facebook’s practices comes the day after an equally difficult episode for the tech group. The major failure of its networks and messaging on Monday and attributed by the company to a “faulty configuration change” of its servers, which prevented its users from accessing the platform, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger for about seven hours.
On Wall Street, a massive sell-off in shares of Facebook and other big tech companies spilled over into the market, pushing major US indices towards steep declines at the start of the week.