Blackburn Says Facebook Whistleblower's Plan Would Silence Conservatives

Senator says she opposes a federal agency to regulate social media companies

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) / Getty Images
October 21, 2021

A leading Republican critic of Big Tech is criticizing the Facebook whistleblower for policy prescriptions that could lead to increased censorship of conservatives.

Senator Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) earlier this month invited former Facebook employee Frances Haugen to testify on a trove of documents that show Facebook knows it causes harm to children, especially teen girls. But in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon, Blackburn says Haugen has gone too far with her policy recommendations, including her call for creating a federal agency to monitor social media companies.

"These documents invoke stunning allegations regarding Facebook's failure to act despite knowing that their platform harms children," she said. "While I will take any opportunity to gain insight into how Facebook functions, I will not endorse policy recommendations that, among other things, would make it easier for big tech companies to silence conservatives."

Haugen, formerly a member of Facebook's civic integrity team, also suggested that social media companies manipulate their feeds in order to slow the spread of "misinformation." Conservatives have criticized Facebook and other social media companies for unfairly moderating content in ways that censor them. By contrast, Democrats have endorsed calls for further policing "disinformation" by requiring social media companies to crack down on more speech.

Some of Haugen's recommendations have received support from both sides of the aisle. She urged Facebook to share more of its research publicly and to offer users the option of a chronological News Feed.

But Haugen also called for a special government bureau to oversee social media platforms, describing it as "a regulatory home where someone like me could do a tour of duty after working at a place like this." Haugen endorsed "soft interventions" by Facebook, such as reducing how often something shows up in the News Feed, to slow down the virality of "misinformation" on the platform. And she encouraged lawmakers to investigate ways to police the algorithms that tech companies use to decide which content to promote.

Conservatives have expressed concern over the network of Democratic operatives closely involved in Haugen's public relations strategy. Liberal billionaire Pierre Omidyar has supported Haugen through his philanthropic organization Luminate. The eBay founder also funds the nonprofit that represents Haugen legally. Haugen, whose PR representative is former Obama spokesman Bill Burton, is also being advised by former Democratic presidential candidate and Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig.

Facebook expects more internal documents to be released to the media this weekend. Facebook's public relations account on Monday tweeted a thread that warned readers "a curated selection out of millions of documents can in no way be used to draw fair conclusions about us."

Facebook has attempted to undermine Haugen's testimony, attacking her for leaking "stolen documents" and noting that 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."

In the last three months, Facebook has spent $5 million lobbying Congress.