Sen. Blumenthal: 'There's No Trust in Facebook, and We Need to Hold Them Accountable'

By Susan Jones | October 4, 2021 | 10:11am EDT
(Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

( - A former Facebook employee turned whistleblower will testify Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, following the explosive accusations she aired on "60 Minutes" Sunday night.

"The thing I saw on Facebook over and over again was there were were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interest with making more money," Frances Haugen said.

Haugen says she secretly copied tens of thousands of pages of internal Facebook documents so "no one can question that this is real."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday he wants to know what additional internal documents Facebook may have showing that the company put profit ahead of the public interest.

"That's one of my questions for the whistleblower at tomorrow's hearing," Blumenthal said. "What more is there? And also, how can we change the algorithms? What kind of oversight and scrutiny can be imposed?

"This woman is an expert on algorithms...and there are ways that these sites can be changed to make them safer. But we can't count on Facebook to do it. There's no trust in Facebook, and we need to hold them accountable and to make sure there is better disclosure and that Facebook is held to a higher standard -- better privacy and safer sites. But they've used these online bullying, self-injury, eating disorder, suicidal thoughts (content) to increase their own profit."

Blumenthal said his Senate office created a fake account featuring a 13-year-old who expressed interest in dieting and weight loss. "Literally within a day she was flooded with recommendations for accounts on eating disorders and self-injury. Those accounts were not taken down, even though that 13-year-old complained to Facebook."

Blumenthal said only when his office complained did Facebook remove the content that he and others considered injurious.

Haugen told "60 Minutes" that Facebook content optimizes "content that gets engagement, a reaction" from subscribers. And content "that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it is easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions." She said such content is "very enticing."

Haugen said the problem lies with algorithms that determine what subscribers see on their Facebook news feed. "Facebook makes more money when you consume more content. People enjoy engaging with things that elicit an emotional reaction. And the more anger they get exposed to, the more they interact, the more they consume," she said.

"When we live in an information environment and it is full of angry, hateful, polarizing content, it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other. The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world," she told "60 Minutes."

Blumenthal said there is bipartisan support for removing legal protections granted to Facebook and other social media companies under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 protects Facebook and other interactive content platforms from legal liability for harmful or offensive content posted by third parties. It also protects them from liability if they do not remove such content.

But Blumenthal said those companies "should be held to the standards of publishers and potentially sued for these kinds of harms that they are doing consciously and purposely to boost profits."

"And here's the good news," he continued:

There's actually a lot of bipartisan support for legislation. If you closed your eyes during that last hearing with Facebook witnesses, and just listened to the barrage of criticisms and challenge, you wouldn't have known whether it was a Republicans or a Democrat.

In fact, I think on protecting children, there's a lot of bipartisan consensus. We need to seize this moment and make the public more aware of the dangers...the heightened insecurities and anxieties that are weaponized by Instagram and Facebook.

They are weaponized for profit. That's what the documents show. And I want Facebook to commit to make all of those documents public.

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