Facebook is one of the most notable social media networks in history, still holding strong after people are beginning to learn the repercussions of sharing personal information online.
Frances Haugen testified before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee, sharing documents revealing Facebook’s slow pace in preventing illicit activities and curbing the negative mental health effects caused by its platform.
Senior Milo Zelle said, “I mean, this is a pretty significant revelation. It confirms what I think a large portion of the population sort of already suspected about the way Facebook worked. But it’s very clear now that they were not engaged in any sort of good faith effort to clean up their website, and I don’t think we ought to be surprised by that because they had existed for many, many years without really any meaningful regulation.”
Facebook has come under fire for letting hate speech and extremist language thrive in regions without language support for content moderation, such as Myanmar, which is linked to atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim people, and the internal documents may reveal why it happened.
Since Facebook is aware of its decreasing grasp on younger users and its current user base growing old, it attempted to boost growth by aggressively promoting itself outside of the U.S. and Western Europe, not preparing for the massive influx of new users or providing content moderation. Further consequences of such a move include lack of action against reports of human trafficking in the Middle East and armed violence against minorities in Ethiopia.
The documents also leaked Facebook’s awareness of how its products affect adolescent mental health. A research document from late 2019 in an internal company site reveals an outreach done with teenagers in the U.S. and the U.K., polling teenagers what their definition of mental health was, how their mental health was, and how Instagram affected their mental health. Despite around half of the teens interviewed reported that they had a positive well-being, one-fifth of teenagers polled stated that Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves. Though the study does list possible measures to improve this, Facebook is still being criticized for its efforts to attract preteen users despite this knowledge.
The backlash towards Facebook after these leaks has been bipartisan. Both Democratic and Republican senators in the committee voiced support for more regulations on how Facebook targets users and manages content. A proposal discussed by Senator Richard Blumenthal would be to give power to the citizens to sue social media companies for harm caused by their algorithms and work around Section 230, which prevents social media companies from being sued for what their users post.