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Facebook ‘operating in the shadows’, whistleblower says as US lawmakers demand probe

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US lawmakers slammed Facebook on Tuesday, accusing CEO Mark Zuckerberg of pressuring it to profit more when it comes to user safety, and called on regulators to investigate whistleblower’s allegations that the social media company was using children’s mental health issues. harms health and promotes division.

Zuckerberg defended the company in a public Facebook post hours later, saying the allegations were contrary to Facebook’s goals.

“The argument that we intentionally advance content that annoys people for profit is highly illogical,” he wrote. “We make money from ads, and advertisers constantly tell us they don’t want their ads to be next to harmful or angry content. And I don’t know any tech company that creates products that help people angry or sad.”

During a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, whistleblower Frances Hogen called for transparency about how Facebook entices users to keep scrolling, giving advertisers ample opportunity to reach them.

“As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, this is unaccountable,” said Haugen, a former product manager on Facebook’s civil misinformation team. He left the company worth about $1 trillion (about Rs 74,57,360 crore) along with thousands of confidential documents.

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safe, but won’t make the necessary changes because they put their astronomical gains in front of the public. Congressional action is needed,” Haugen said.

In an era when bipartisanship is rare in Washington, lawmakers from both parties cheered the company, depicting growing anger in Congress with Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp.

Republican Senator Dan Sullivan said he was concerned about how subsidiaries like Facebook and Instagram affected the mental health of children. “We’re going to look back 20 years from now and we’ll all be like, ‘What were we thinking?'”

Haugen revealed that she was the person who used documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on the harms of Instagram to teenage girls. She compared social media services to narcotics such as tobacco and opioids.

The panel’s chairman, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said Facebook knew its products were addictive. “Tech now faces that big tobacco jaw-dropping moment of truth,” he said.

He called on Zuckerberg to testify before the committee, and for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook.

Blumenthal said, “Our children are the victims. Teenagers today are looking in the mirror and feeling doubts and insecurities. Mark Zuckerberg should look at himself in the mirror.”

Blumenthal said after the hearing that he would like to ask Zuckerberg why he rejected recommendations to make products safer for users.

Zuckerberg said in his post that Facebook will not stop researching its social impact. But he wrote that Congress needs to update the rules to clarify the legal age for teens to use Internet services, how to verify their age and give parents visibility into their activity. to balance the privacy of

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On Tuesday, Facebook’s shares closed 2 per cent higher at $332.96 (about Rs 24,840), which is about 13 per cent lower than its record high on September 7.

A day after Facebook was shut down for hours, Haugen pointed to the outage in his testimony: “The use of Facebook for more than five hours to deepen divisions, destabilize democracy and expose young girls and women to their bodies.” Wasn’t about to make you feel bad.”

As lawmakers criticized Facebook, company spokesmen argued in further statements on Twitter that Haugen did not act directly on some of the topics being raised.

Facebook spokeswoman Lena Pietsch said: “We disagree with his characterization of many of the issues he testified about.”

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn accused Facebook of turning a blind eye to its services to children under the age of 13. “It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users,” she said.

Last week, Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis defended the company before Congress, saying it was seeking to release additional internal studies in an effort to be more transparent about its findings.

Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Commerce Committee, said she would write to Facebook to insist that it not remove documents related to the Rohingya, Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority. A colleague said she would ask for wider retention of the documents.

Last month, a US federal judge ordered Facebook to release records of accounts linked to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar, which the social media company had shut down.

Haugen said she would encourage “monitoring and public scrutiny” of Facebook’s content recommendation algorithms and their results. He suggested creating a dedicated body within the federal government to oversee social media companies.

Blumenthal said he would like to have an additional hearing to discuss national security issues related to Facebook.

Haugen said Facebook has also done little to stop the violence.

Facebook was used by people planning mass killings in Myanmar and the US Capitol was attacked on January 6 by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, who were determined to tout the 2020 election results.

Speaking to the absent Zuckerberg, Senator Edward Markey said during the hearing: “Your time to invade our privacy and victimize children is over. Congress will take action.”

Lawmakers during the hearing referred to Zuckerberg as sailing instead of facing his responsibilities. The CEO posted a video this weekend of his wife in a boat with the company’s new smart glasses.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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