For those of us who have been monitoring social media from its beginnings, Frances Haugen’s whistleblower testimony against Facebook was a welcome sight. We have warned politicians and the public for years about the insidious nature of ALL social media and the danger it poses to our society—particularly to our children. Haugen reported how Facebook puts its “astronomical profits before people” (to be fair, is there a corporation that doesn’t?) and she laid out clearly the Fort Knox-like practices of the company, which include intentionally hiding research from outsiders. Haugen was very informative for those who are unaware of Facebook’s practices, and here are a few items from her testimony that I found interesting:
1) Section 230 of the Communications Act – Haugen made a point of warning Congress that privacy legislation and changes to Section 230 of The Communications Act of 1996 would not be enough to derail Facebook’s actions. Congressional oversight is necessary in her view because “Facebook will not change on their own.” Section 230 was originally created to protect the infant tech industry from liability from user uploaded content. It was a way to acknowledge that they were not “producing content”. Over the past two decades the tech industry has hidden behind 230’s protections to regulate content through its advertising practices and its active control of content streams to manipulate user emotions and ideologies. They’ve made billions in the process. It is interesting that eliminating Section 230 and opening them to lawsuits would not be enough in Haugen’s opinion.
2) Engagement-based ranking – According to Haugen, “Facebook knows that their amplification algorithms, things like engagement-based ranking on Instagram, can lead children from very innocuous topics like healthy recipes to anorexia-promoting content over a short period of time.” This alone is frightening enough; but consider other topics this could also apply to. Are there algorithms that lead to child from safe sites to ones provide porn? Or perhaps to sites frequented by online predators seeking to groom children? Where would it end?
3) How good is Facebook’s (and by extension all social media platforms’) security against underage children having access? Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of global safety revealed to a Senate Commerce subcommittee last week that the social media giant “pulled over 600,000 Instagram accounts from June to August this year belonging to users that didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 13.” If 600,00 were discovered, how many are still active that have yet to be exposed?
4) Metrics = Ad dollars – Haugen stated plainly that Facebook is metrics driven. In fact, she made a point of reporting that “new growth projects” are given a priority. Ultimately, Senator Blackburn spelled it out perfectly when she said, “Follow the money.” How much money are we talking about? According to data read by Senator Klobuchar, Facebook’s ad revenue was “$51.58 per user over the last quarter in the U.S. and Canada.” Per user.
Overall, I think the Congressional hearings were beneficial. Many more social media users now understand that Facebook (and other social media platforms) should not be trusted. My only disappointment with the hearings was that Congress did not address the role porn has played in Facebook’s astronomical revenues and how that has caused an explosion in incidences of online grooming, sextortion, sex trafficking, and a number of other sexual crimes our children have been exposed to.
Nevertheless, the hearings were a start. Now let’s see if Congress is serious or if they were just using the hearings as a photo op.