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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies before British Parliament

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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen provides evidence to the Joint Committee on Drafting Online Safety Bills as part of a government plan to regulate social media.

House of Representatives – PA Images | PA images | Getty Images

Whistleblower Frances Haugen told British lawmakers on Monday that London regulators had a small chance to take action against the spread of hate speech and other harmful content on Facebook.

“An oil spill doesn’t make it more difficult to regulate oil companies,” Haugen said at a hearing on the new legislation to tackle online harmful content in the UK Parliament.

“Right now, Facebook is closing the door for us to act. We have some time to regain people’s control over AI.”

Haugen made headlines earlier this month when he was identified as a whistleblower of a Facebook whistleblower cache leak, particularly demonstrating that the company is aware of the damage the Instagram app can do to teens’ mental health.

“It’s just not true,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a former Facebook employee who accused the company of putting “profits over people” while testifying before Congress.

This is one of the biggest crises in recent Facebook history, coming as regulators around the world seek to curb the sheer power and influence of American tech giants.

Over the weekend, new reports poured in based on additional leaks from Haugen.

One of the reports, citing internal documents, said Facebook was not prepared to deal with the January 6 riots at the Capitol. Another report detailed the spread of hate speech and content inciting violence in India on Facebook services.

‘irresponsible’

At Congress on Monday, Haugen reiterated her argument that Facebook puts interests ahead of people. She said the company refuses to introduce friction into platforms that curb participation in harmful content “because it doesn’t want to lose that growth.”

“Facebook did not tolerate sacrificing even the slightest profit for safety,” Haugen said.

Haugen also denounced Facebook’s work culture as a work culture similar to that of a startup. When working for a company, she often said, “I don’t know” who to share her concerns with.

“I think we have a culture of blind faith in irresponsible startups,” Haugen said, adding that company leaders are reluctant to “slow down the platform.”

A tech executive who previously worked for Google and Pinterest said Facebook would have to hire 10,000 additional engineers instead of 10,000 to build the “metaverse” to do safety work.

Facebook countered Haugen’s testimony in a statement on Monday, saying there was “always a commercial incentive for remotely harmful content”.

“People don’t want to see our apps when they use our apps, and advertisers don’t want ads to appear next to them,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC in an email. “So we invested $13 billion and hired 40,000 people to do one thing in our app to keep people safe.”

“We have rules for harmful content and we publish regular transparency reports, but we agree that the entire industry needs regulation to ensure that businesses like us don’t make these decisions on their own.”

Haugen also questioned the role of the supervisory board, Facebook’s funding body, to hold companies accountable for arbitration decisions. She said the board was “actively misleading” about key aspects of the way Facebook makes content decisions.

“This is a crucial moment for the supervisory board,” Haugen said. “If Facebook can get in there and actively mislead the supervisory board, I don’t know what the supervisory board’s purpose is.”

Damian Collins, chair of the UK’s co-chair of the UK’s drafting online safety legislation, said the organization was “more like a post review committee than a supervisory board”.

Haugen recently accepted an invitation to meet with the supervisory board.

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