Friday (October 8th): Congress vs. Facebook: Whistleblower Round

Frances Haugen - Facebook
Frances Haugen

Name? Frances Haugen

Westphalian identity? United States American

Age? 37

Why is she in the news? During her three hour testimony for a Senate subcommittee, Haugen discussed in detail how Facebook, her former employer, has been deliberate in its attempts to keep both children and adults hooked on its services. According to Haugen, “Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy.”

Why do we care? Because actions speak louder than words. While Ms Haugen’s actions of leaving Facebook and leaking documents back up her claims against Facebook, the US Congress’ actions are much more passive than their statements. Dozens of bills addressing data privacy, changes to speech laws, and bolstered antitrust laws have stalled in Congress this year. 

Why should you care? Although this is far from the first congressional hearing on Facebook, it marks an important moment in the fight to regulate Big Tech in that (1) Ms. Haugen’s insider testimony united Republican and Democratic lawmakers by (2) providing those lawmakers with information as to what other data they should ask Facebook for. You should probably care 6/10 about Facebook using you.

Who else cares? Ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya in Myanmar and Tigrayans in Ethiopia. On multiple accounts, Haugen has expressed concern over the dangers Facebook could pose in societies gaining their first access to the internet as the company’s engagement-based ranking system is “ fanning ethnic violence.” Haugen views the social-media-based genocide in Myanmar as a potential template rather than an anomaly.

Any further comments? After just two years at Facebook, what legitimacy does Haugen hold over her claims? As an electrical and computer engineer, not to mention Harvard graduate, Haugen has worked at the likes of Google, Pinterest, and other social media sites, helping determine what content gets published to users. Giving her far more qualifications to debate Facebook’s flaws than perhaps the company’s own CEO.

Sarah McFadden

General Coordinator