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October 5, 2021

Facebook whistleblower says the product is harmful for children, democracy

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen told Congress on Tuesday that the platform harms children and “weakens democracy” by fueling polarization in the US — and its executives, chiefly Mark Zuckerberg, refuse to change because they value profits above all.

Haugen, a former data scientist for the social media conglomerate, testified before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. She 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.

“Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said. “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,” she added. “They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

Haugen’s work centered around algorithms, and she said a 2018 change resulted in more divisiveness and ill will in the network. Additionally, Haugen leaked research that indicates the harmful effects of Facebook’s photo-sharing platform, Instagram, on teens.

One internal study cited 13.5 percent of teen girls saying Instagram exacerbates suicidal thoughts and 17 percent saying it exacerbates eating disorders.

“Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content,” Haugen said. “It’s just like cigarettes. Teenagers don’t have any self-regulation. We need to protect the kids.”

“The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the U.S. government and from governments around the world,” Haugen said. “The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems, and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages.”

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Ex-Facebook employee says network hurts kids, fuels division

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