Facebook Whistleblower Calls for More Regulation of Social Media Companies

Frances Haugen says the company ignores misinformation, harm to kids

Frances Haugen appears before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee. (Photo by Matt McClain-Pool/Getty Images)
October 5, 2021

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen called for increased regulation of social media Tuesday, telling senators that the company "cannot adequately identify dangerous content."

Speaking to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Haugen called for reforming Section 230, a federal law that protects social media companies from liability for user content. Haugen, who leaked a trove of internal Facebook documents to the Wall Street Journal, said eliminating those protections would "make Facebook responsible for the consequences of its [content moderation strategies]."

Her testimony is the latest public setback Facebook has suffered in recent weeks. CEO Mark Zuckerberg lost $7 billion in a single day after Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp simultaneously crashed on Monday. Since the Journal began reporting on documents leaked by Haugen, lawmakers have slammed Facebook for suppressing research that showed its products are harmful for children.

Haugen testified that Facebook is incentivized to make "children establish habits before they have good self regulation." She cited a document showing problematic use of Facebook peaked at 14 years old, and that kids explicitly say they feel bad when they use Instagram but can’t stop. Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) presented ads Facebook had approved but never run that encouraged kids to take prescription drugs at parties and practice anorexic behaviors. The Tech Transparency Project, a tech accountability nonprofit, submitted the ads to test Facebook's ad-approval process.

Facebook representatives attacked Haugen on Twitter, saying she "worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, [and] never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives." They also said Haugen did not directly work on child safety issues while at Facebook. They did not attempt to rebut the documents Haugen accessed that show the platform's harm to children.

Speaking to Congress last week, Facebook executive Antigone Davis claimed the company does not actively market to kids. But internal memos show Facebook is working to attract children and teens as the platform’s popularity wanes among young people.

​​Haugen also said she was speaking to members of Congress about Facebook’s knowledge that China, Iran, and other state actors were using the platform to surveil political opponents and other states.

During the hearing, Haugen endorsed a number of Democratic proposals, including a bill from Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) that would create governmental bodies to police algorithms. In an exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), she said Facebook ignores misinformation on its platform in order to drive traffic.

The Washington Free Beacon reported on Monday that Haugen is receiving strategic communications guidance from a top Democratic operative, former Obama administration deputy press secretary Bill Burton. Burton has called for stricter government regulation of content allowed on Facebook.