A Facebook whistleblower goes before US lawmakers Tuesday to urge regulation of the social media giant after an outage impacted potentially billions of users and highlighted global dependence on its services.
Ex-employee Frances Haugen is set to testify on Capitol Hill after she leaked reams of internal research to authorities and the Wall Street Journal, which detailed how Facebook knew its sites were potentially harmful to young people’s mental health.
She will speak before senators less than a day after Facebook, its photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp went offline for roughly seven hours, with “billions of users” impacted, according to tracker Downdetector.
In excerpts of Haugen’s testimony leaked to US media, she argues for regulation of the closely scrutinized company that is woven into the daily lives of so many people.
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“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms it caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seatbelts, the government took action,” the excerpts said. “I implore you to do the same here.”
Facebook has pushed back hard against the outrage regarding its practices and their impact, but this is just the latest crisis to hit the Silicon Valley giant.
US lawmakers for years have threatened to regulate Facebook and other social media platforms to address criticisms that the tech giants trample on privacy, provide a megaphone for dangerous misinformation and damage young people’s well-being.
After years of fierce criticism directed at social media, without major legislative overhauls, some experts were skeptical that change was coming.
“It’s going to have to come down to the platforms, feeling pressure from their users feeling pressure from their employees,” Mark Hass, an Arizona State University professor told AFP.
Haugen, a 37-year-old data scientist from Iowa, has worked for companies including Google and Pinterest — but said in an interview Sunday with CBS news show “60 Minutes” that Facebook was “substantially worse” than anything she had seen before.
Facebook’s vice president of policy and global affairs Nick Clegg vehemently pushed back at the assertion its platforms are “toxic” for teens, days after a tense, hours-long congressional hearing in which US lawmakers grilled the company over its impact on the mental health of young users.
Facebook has not commented on the possible cause of Monday’s outage, but cyber security experts noted they had found signs that online routes that lead people to the social giant were disrupted.
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“Sometime this morning Facebook took away the map telling the world’s computers how to find its various online properties,” according to a post-Monday from cyber security expert Brian Krebs.
In addition to the disruption to people, businesses, and others that rely on the company’s tools, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took a financial hit.
Fortune’s billionaire tracking website late Monday said Zuckerberg’s personal fortune plunged by nearly $6 billion from the prior day to land at just under $117 billion.
Some people rejoiced at Facebook’s tools being offline, but some complained to AFP that the outage had caused trouble for them both professionally and personally.
“I love Instagram. It’s the app I use the most, especially for my job,” said Millie Donnelly, community manager for a nonprofit.
“So professionally, it’s definitely a step back and then personally, I just am always on the app,” she added.