Frances Haugen, a former FB employee who has made thousands of internal Facebook documents, is about to renew her call for regulation of the social media business model, which, she says, puts profit before the health of users and global democracies.
On Wednesday, Frances will once again return to the Capitol to testify before the House Subcommittee on Technology, as lawmakers weigh proposals to reduce the legal protections provided by online platforms under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
"Facebook wants you to get caught up in a long, drawn-out discussion about the minutiae of various legislative approaches," Haugen plans to say, according to her prepared remarks. "Please don't fall into this trap. Time is of the essence."
Although both parties support stricter regulation of the Internet, there is no consensus on how best to set restrictive labels for a complex and ever-changing industry. Four different bills that would change Section 230 will be part of Wednesday's debate.
Internal documents Haugen shared with reporters, Congress, and securities regulators over the past few months revealed that executives at Facebook and its parent company, now known as Meta Platforms Inc., were aware of the mental health and societal risks involved.
These revelations caused a wave of outrage in Washington, where Facebook has repeatedly faced antitrust scrutiny and criticism in connection with the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and last year's elections.
Jim Steyer, the head of the family-owned nonprofit Common Sense Media, who will also testify on Wednesday, said he expects Congress to unite around measures to improve privacy, ensure accountability of platforms and address the concentration of power in the industry in the hands of companies like Meta. Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., and Google Alphabet Inc.
Next year "will be the year of technological legislation and regulation," Steyer expressed his opinion in an interview. It's not about Democrats and Republicans. This is about American children and families, about our democracy and our understanding of right and wrong."
Recall that in a previous speech before a subcommittee of the Senate and the UK Parliament, Haugen called on lawmakers to regulate how platforms accelerate the transfer of information on the Internet. She said online tools should be more chronological and "human-centric" rather than prioritizing engagement, which can attract more advertising dollars but can also quickly make malicious content viral.
Facebook has denied Haugen's accusations, saying she did not work directly on some of the issues she raised, although she provided the relevant documents to Congress. The company also rejected claims that its platforms cause polarization, and pointed to investments in content moderation and automated systems to detect malicious information.
While some elected officials, including former President Donald Trump, have called for the complete repeal of Section 230, most lawmakers have proposed a more targeted approach, according to which technology companies will be responsible for business decisions affecting the flow and quality of information. Congress is increasingly seeking to regulate how platforms use algorithms to shape the user experience.
According to a committee aide, Haugen met behind closed doors with other congressional committees, including the House Intelligence group. Other departments also have access to a trove of documents she copied before leaving Facebook.
Haugen, who has worked for Facebook's social integrity and threat intelligence groups, promised to be a resource for lawmakers investigating how Meta platforms could be used to undermine national security and public confidence in democratic elections.
Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram's photo-sharing service, will address the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product safety, and data security next week about the risks his platform poses to young people. In a video posted online, Mosseri said he would talk about some recent changes to Instagram designed to provide more privacy options for teens and give parents more control.
As we can see, although the rebranding of the parent company of the social network was successful, attempts by legislators to radically influence the quality and structure of the content in social networks can make their adjustments, and the case for the quality of Facebook services is far from closed. And each new stage is likely to blow the foam off FB shares, so it will be useful for those who monitor the company's financial performance to check the list of Capitol hearings on this case.