‘The internet needs regulating’: Facebook calls on legislators to create ‘standard rules’ for the web but hits out at whistleblower Frances Haungen saying she never met with top executives
- Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday
- The whistleblower blamed Facebook for the January 6 Capitol riot and said they share guilt for the mass killings in Myanmar
- Haugen claimed that Mark Zuckerberg personally made choices that prioritized engagement over safety
- She told Congress Facebook executives regularly chose ‘astronomical profits’ over peoples’ safety
- Facebook responded by pointing out she worked there for less than two years and never had meetings with top executives
- The company said that they agree with her that more regulation is needed
- Zuckerberg himself said Haugen’s testimony was ‘frustrating’ as it painted a ‘false picture’ of the company
- Subcommittee Chair, Senator Richard Blumenthal, called on Zuckerberg to testify on the damning research
- Haugen said ‘there are no similarly powerful companies that are as unilaterally controlled’ as Facebook
- Senator Ed Markey called Haugen a ‘twenty-first century hero’ for coming forward with the data
Facebook conceded on Tuesday that the internet needs greater regulation as it attacked whistleblower Frances Haugen following her testimony before Congress, describing her as a low-level employee who was not well informed.
Haugen accused her former employer of putting their ‘astronomical profits’ over safety; said executives knew their products harm children; and said the site is a threat to democracy and causes violence.
Her claims were devastating for Facebook’s public image and prompted multiple senators to attack founder Mark Zuckerberg – who Haugen alleges knew of and encouraged his site’s harmful practices.
Facebook’s director of policy communications, Lena Pietsch, responded to Haugen’s testimony by pointing out she worked at the company for less than two years.
Pietsch added that Haugen ‘had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives – and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question.’
But Facebook agreed on the need for more regulation.
‘It’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet,’ Pietsch said.
‘It’s been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act.’
Haugen said during her blistering testimony that Zuckerberg is only ‘accountable to himself’ and has even been directly involved in company decisions that saw Facebook putting profit over ‘changes that would have significantly decreased misinformation, hate speech and other inciting content.’
Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday evening defended his company, saying it was ‘frustrating’ to see a ‘false picture’ of Facebook being painted by Haugen
Frances Haugen on Tuesday appeared before Congress to discuss the workings of Facebook. She suggested a government entity be created to regulate Facebook during the scathing Senate hearing
Zuckerberg said Haugen painted ‘a false picture of the company’.
In a memo he sent to all staff, which he posted on Facebook, he wrote: ‘I’m sure many of you have found the recent coverage hard to read because it just doesn’t reflect the company we know.
‘We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health. It’s difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives.
‘At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted.’
Zuckerberg said it was ‘just not true’ that the company prioritizes profit over all other concerns, and said it was not in their interests to promote damaging content.
He said the company was doing a lot of work on moderation, and on protecting children.
But Zuckerberg’s response would appear to be unlikely to find an unsympathetic audience in Congress.
FACEBOOK FIRES BACK: ATTACKS WHISTLEBLOWER – BUT AGREES CONGRESS NEEDS TO ACT
Today, a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives – and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question.
We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about. Despite all this, we agree on one thing; it’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet. It’s been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act.
Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications Lena Pietsch
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal kicked off the hearing by calling Facebook ‘morally bankrupt’ and criticized Zuckerberg for going sailing in Hawaii with wife Priscilla Chan instead of answering questions from lawmakers.
Senator Ed Markey also piled on the absent tech billionaire, addressing him by name during the hearing to warn him that ‘Congress will be taking action’ with or without his help.
‘Your time of invading privacy, promoting toxic content, and preying on children and teens is over. Congress will be taking action. You can work with us, or not work with us, but we will not allow your company to harm our children and our families and out democracy any longer,’ Markey said.
Haugen told senators that no similar company’s CEO has as much unilateral control as Zuckerberg does.
‘Mark holds a very unique role in the tech industry in that he holds over 55% of all the voting shares for Facebook. There are no similarly powerful companies that are as unilaterally controlled,’ she said. ‘There’s no one currently holding him accountable but himself.’
She said ‘the buck stops with’ Facebook’s tech billionaire owner, adding that ‘Facebook needs to take responsibility for the consequences of its choices.’
Later in the hearing Haugen said Zuckerberg himself even made choices that put engagement over public safety.
‘We have a few choice documents that contain notes from briefings with Mark Zuckerberg where he chose metrics defined by Facebook like “meaningful social interactions” over changes that would have significantly decreased misinformation, hate speech and other inciting content,’ she told Senator Ben Ray Lujan.
Markey lauded Haugen as a ‘Twenty-first century American hero’ for speaking out against the social media giant.
He also accused Facebook of being built on ‘computer codes of misconduct.’
‘Time and time again Facebook says one thing and does another. Time and time again Facebook fails to abide by the commitments that they had made. Time and time again, Facebook lies about what they are doing,’ he said.
‘Facebook’s platforms are not safe for young people, as you said Facebook is like big tobacco, enticing young kids with that first cigarette…whistleblowing shows that Facebook uses harmful features.’
During his second round of hearing Markey accused Facebook of using lobbyists to block legislators’ reform efforts.
Blumenthal criticized Facebook’s founder earlier on in his opening statement on Tuesday morning.
Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen arrives to testify during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday
Haugen suggested Facebook’s self-created burden could have gotten so large that they simply didn’t know what to do with it and felt ‘trapped’
‘Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror today,’ the Connecticut Democrat said. ‘And yet rather than taking responsibility and showing leadership, Mr. Zuckerberg is going sailing.’
‘Mark Zuckerberg you need to come before this committee, you need to explain to Frances Hougan, to us, to the world, and to the parents of America – what you were doing and why you did it.’
Whistleblower Francis Haugen says Facebook has put its ‘astronomical profits before people’
Haugen began her testimony with a scathing opening statement accusing Facebook leadership of knowingly allow its products to ‘harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.’
She celebrated a massive outage that affected Facebook and its related sites.
‘Yesterday we saw Facebook get taken off the internet. I don’t know why it went down, but I do know for more than five hours, Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies,’ Haugen said.
She also said Facebook had done too little to prevent its platform from being used by people planning violence, claiming executives chose profit over safety whenever possible.
‘The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people,’ she claimed.
The result of which, she said, ‘has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats and more combat. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people.’
Haugen acknowledged that problems with social media were incredibly complex – citing her experience working at four different social media platforms.
‘However, the choices being made inside Facebook are disastrous – for children, for public safety, for our privacy and for our democracy – that is why I came forward. And let’s be clear: it doesn’t have to be this way. We are here today because of deliberate choices Facebook has made,’ she said.
Haugen calls for government to step in and regulate Facebook
The whistleblower acknowledged that the site’s mounting problems could be too large for it to handle on its own.
‘You can declare moral bankruptcy and we can figure out how to fix these things together, because we solve problems together and we don’t solve them alone,’ she said.
She suggested Facebook’s self-created burden could have gotten so large that they simply didn’t know what to do with it.
Facebook by the numbers: $30billion in revenue and almost 2.9billion daily users
Facebook’s most recent public financial disclosures came in their June FY 2021 report for the second quarter
From April through June, Facebook made nearly $30 billion in revenue
After operating costs and taxes the company walked away with $10.3 billion
More than 63,400 employees work at Facebook, a 21% year-over increase
June 2021 saw 1.91 billion daily active users on the site and 2.9 billion monthly active users
source: Facebook Investor Relations
‘Facebook is stuck in a feedback loop they cannot get out of. They have been hiding this information because they feel trapped. Like, they would have come forward if they had solutions to these things. They need to admit they did something wrong, and that they need help to solve these problems.’
But she also doubted that Facebook’s lack of solutions came from a lack of ‘private research’ as an executive once said.
‘If they make $40 billion per year, they have the resources to solve these problems, they’re choosing not to solve them,’ she told Senator Rick Scott.
Haugen told Republican Senator Mike Lee that Facebook’s artificial intelligence systems designed to filter out harmful content were relatively ineffective at catching hate speech – and even sometimes allowed drug-related content to get to kids.
‘The reality is that we’ve seen from repeated documents within my disclosures, is that Facebook’s AI systems only catch a very tiny minority of offending content. And best case scenario, and the case of something like hate speech, at most they will ever get 10 to 20 percent. In the case of children, that means drug paraphernalia ads like that, it’s likely if they rely on computers and not humans, they will also likely never get more than 10 to 20 percent of those ads,’ she said.
She suggested a social media-specific regulatory body within the government as a possible solution at several points in the hearing.
Haugen claimed oversight could ‘make Facebook a more profitable company five or 10 years from now’ and would be ‘kinder, friendlier and more collaborative.’
She said such an agency is ‘in everyone’s interest.’
Until such regulation, the whistleblower warned, Facebook won’t move to change on its own.
‘Until incentives change at Facebook, we should not expect Facebook to change. We need action from Congress,’ she said.
And such action may be coming – Markey promised during his allotted time that ‘Congress will take action.’
Facebook responds to Haugen’s claims during the hearing
A Facebook executive went after Haugen during the hearing, pointing out that she did not work with the data she was testifying on at the hearing.
‘Just pointing out the fact that @FrancesHaugen did not work on child safety or Instagram or research these issues and has no direct knowledge of the topic from her work at Facebook,’ Policy Communications Director Andy Stone wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
Senator Marsha Blackburn responded to Stone’s tweet during the hearing.
‘I will simply say this to Mr. Stone: If Facebook wants to discuss their targeting of children, if they want to discuss their practices of privacy invasion or violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Act, I am extending to you an invitation to step forward, be sworn in and testify before this committee. We would be pleased to hear from you and welcome your testimony,’ Blackburn said.
Haugen has said multiple times during the hearing that she didn’t work in child safety but claimed the documents she viewed and leaked were available to all staff.
Stone later released a statement from Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications Lena Pietsch. Pietsch dismissed Haugen as an ex-employee ‘who worked for the company for less than two years’ but agreed with her calls for more internet regulation.
‘Today, a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives – and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question,’ the statement read.
Pietsch did agree with Hauge that Congress needed to act on reforms for any meaningful change to occur.
‘We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about. Despite all this, we agree on one thing; it’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet. It’s been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act,’ she said.
Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis, who testified before the same panel last week, defended her company in an MSNBC interview during the hearing.
‘Of course we want to allow for freedom of expression, but one of the underlying principles behind the work that we do is ensuring people’s safety and security. Most people really do feel quite safe and secure on our platform, and they’re coming back and using our platform because they do feel safe and secure, and we are doing a good job to get that content off. But I do think there are validation systems that people want in place,’ she said.
Davis, faced a barrage of criticism from senators on the Commerce panel at a hearing last Thursday. They accused Facebook of concealing the negative findings about Instagram and demanded a commitment from the company to make changes.
Davis defended Instagram’s efforts to protect young people using its platform. She disputed the way The Wall Street Journal story describes what the research shows.
Facebook maintains that Haugen’s allegations are misleading and insists there is no evidence to support the premise that it is the primary cause of social polarization.
‘Even with the most sophisticated technology, which I believe we deploy, even with the tens of thousands of people that we employ to try and maintain safety and integrity on our platform, we´re never going to be absolutely on top of this 100% of the time,’ Nick Clegg, Facebook´s vice president of policy and public affairs, said Sunday on CNN´s ‘Reliable Sources.’
Facebook changed misinformation safeguards put in place ahead of election just before Capitol riot because ‘they wanted that growth back’
Among its controversies, Facebook was used by people planning mass killings in Myanmar and in the Jan. 6 assault by Trump supporters who were determined to toss out the 2020 election results.
After the November election, Facebook dissolved the civic integrity union where Haugen had been working. That, she said, was the moment she realized ‘I don´t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.’
Haugen was greeted by Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Amy Klobuchar when she arrived for her testimony
Speaking to Senators on Tuesday, Haugen celebrated a massive outage that hit Facebook and its related sites the day before
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is on the subcommittee, asked Haugen if the site removed safeguards against misinformation it had implemented for the election before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Haugen said the social media giant knew the content that was being shared was ‘dangerous’ before they increased site security but dropped those standards for the sake of ‘growth.’
‘Facebook has been emphasizing a false choice. They’ve said the safeguards that were in place before the election implicated free speech. The choices that were happening on the platform were really about how reactive and twitchy was the platform.’
‘Facebook changed those safety defaults in the run-up to the election because they knew they were dangerous. And because they wanted that growth back…they returned to their original defaults.’
She also said Zuckerberg was ‘directly presented with a list of soft interventions’ – or options to lessen the volume of potentially harmful content – ahead of the election but decided not to because it would impact the platform’s engagement rates.
‘Mark Zuckerberg was directly presented with a list of soft interventions and chose to not remove downstream MSI in April of 2020, even in isolated and at-risk countries, if it had any impact on the overall MSI,’ she said.
Haugen speculated that he did so because the MSI metric is tied to bonuses – ‘If you hurt MSI, a bunch of people wouldn’t get their bonuses.’
Blumenthal says Facebook is ‘morally bankrupt’ and Haugen says it intentionally leads young users to ‘anorexia content’
Blumenthal said Facebook was facing a ‘big tobacco moment’ in the country’s reckoning over its impact on a generation of young people, slamming the company as ‘morally bankrupt.’
‘The damage to self interest and self worth inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation,’ Blumenthal said. ‘Feelings of inadequacy, and insecurity, rejection and self hatred will impact this generation for years to come.
Later during the hearing Haugen told Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas that Facebook and Instagram were knowingly exacerbating problems that kids face.
‘They know that severe harm is happening to children,’ Haugen said.
She said Facebook targets ‘children as young as eight’ for its Messenger Kids app, and goes after kids under age 18 for Instagram.
Haugen also addressed the mental effects Facebook’s algorithms have on children, particularly young girls, similar to building a tobacco addiction.
‘Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content,’ she said. ‘It’s just like cigarettes. Teenagers don’t have any self-regulation. We need to protect the kids.’
At another point in the hearing Haugen was asked by Senator Dan Sullivan about what perspective people will have on Facebook years from now.
She answered: ‘When Facebook has made statements in the past about how much benefit Instagram is providing to kids’ mental health, like kids are connecting who were once alone, what I’m so surprised about that is – if Instagram is such a positive force, have we seen a golden age of teenage mental health in the last 10 years? No, we’ve seen escalating rates of depression and suicide among teenagers.’
Haugen added that the use of social media ‘amplified’ the risk of that, attributing it to Facebook’s own research.
Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan are out sailing today. Senators criticized the tech billionaire for hitting the waves instead of attending the Senate hearing
Another image from Mark Zuckerberg’s sailing trip captured by the tech billionaire
FACEBOOK WHISTLEBLOWER FRANCES HAUGEN’S SEARING ATTACKS ON ZUCKERBERG AND EXECS
‘I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy. The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.’
‘For more than 5 hours (on Monday), Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies, and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies.’
‘I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our safety. Facebook consistently resolved its conflicts in favor of its own profits. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence.’
‘Mark holds a very unique role in the tech industry in that he holds over 55% of all the voting shares for Facebook. There are no similarly powerful companies that are as unilaterally controlled. … There’s no one currently holding him accountable but himself..’
‘Almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside of Facebook. The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the U.S. government, and from governments around the world.’
‘We can afford nothing less than full transparency. As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows and hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is unaccountable. Until the incentives change, Facebook will not change. ‘
‘They want you to believe in false choices, they want you to believe you must choose between a Facebook full of divisive and extreme content or losing one of the most important values our country was founded on, free speech.’
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal
‘Their (Facebook’s) profit was more important than the pain that it caused. There is documented proof that Facebook knows its products can be addictive and toxic to children, and it is not just that they made money – it’s that they valued their more than the pain they caused to children and their families.
‘Facebook’s failure to acknowledge and to act makes it morally bankrupt. Again and again, Facebook rejected reforms recommended by its own researchers.
‘The damage to self worth, inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation. Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity and rejection and self-hatred will impact this generation for years.
Facebook whistleblower speaks out on CBS’ 60 Minutes
After recent reports in The Wall Street Journal based on documents she leaked to the newspaper raised a public outcry, Haugen revealed her identity in a CBS ’60 Minutes’ interview aired Sunday night.
She claims Facebook had a role in the January 6 Capitol riots and is damaging for teenagers, particularly young girls.
The ex-employee challenging the social network giant with 2.8 billion users worldwide and nearly $1 trillion in market value is a 37-year-old data expert from Iowa with a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in business from Harvard.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen (pictured) will urge Congress today to regulate social media, saying the sites harm children and even lead to violence
Don’t have enough money
Don’t have enough friends
Down, sad or depressed
Wanted to kill themselves
Wanted to hurt themselves
Question: In general, how has Instagram affected the way you feel about yourself, your mental health?
US boys and girls: 3%
US boys: 2%
US girls: 3%
UK total: 2%
UK boys: 1%
UK girls: 2%
US total: 16%
US Boys 12%
US girls: 18%
UK total: 19%
UK boys: 13%
UK girls: 23%
US total: 41%
US boys: 37%
US girls: 43%
UK total: 46%
UK boys: 50%
UK girls: 44%
US total: 29%
US boys: 32%
US girls: 29%
UK total: 28%
UK boys: 31%
UK girls: 26%
US total: 12%
US boys: 18%
US girls 8%
UK total: 5%
UK boys: 5%
UK girls: 4%
She worked at companies including Google and Pinterest for 15 years prior to being recruited by Facebook in 2019.
‘The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed,’ she will say.
‘As long as Facebook is operating in the dark, it is accountable to no one. And it will continue to make choices that go against the common good.’
Haugen, who worked as a product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team, was the whistleblower who provided documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation and a Senate hearing on Instagram’s harm to teen girls.
The panel is examining Facebook’s use of information from its own researchers on Instagram that could indicate potential harm for some of its young users, especially girls, while it publicly downplayed the negative impacts.
For some of the teens devoted to Facebook´s popular photo-sharing platform, the peer pressure generated by the visually focused Instagram led to mental health and body-image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, the research leaked by Haugen showed.
One internal study cited 13.5 percent of teen girls saying Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17 percent of teen girls saying it makes eating disorders worse.
Facebook owns Instagram as well as WhatsApp.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Haugen added that ‘Facebook’s closed design means it has no oversight even from its own Oversight Board, which is as blind as the public.’
That makes it impossible for regulators to serve as a check, she added.
‘This inability to see into the actual systems of Facebook and confirm that Facebook’s systems work like they say is like the Department of Transportation regulating cars by watching them drive down the highway,’ her testimony says. ‘Imagine if no regulator could ride in a car, pump up its wheels, crash test a car, or even know that seat belts could exist.’
The Journal’s stories, based on Facebook internal presentations and emails, showed the company contributed to increased polarization online when it made changes to its content algorithm; failed to take steps to reduce vaccine hesitancy; and was aware that Instagram harmed the mental health of teenage girls.
Haugen says she told Facebook executives when they recruited her that she had asked to work in an area of the company that fights misinformation, because she had lost a friend to online conspiracy theories.
That’s because of the ‘instantaneous and spontaneous form of communication’ on Facebook, Clegg said, adding, ‘I think we do more than any reasonable person can expect to.’
By coming forward, Haugen says she hopes it will help spur the government to put regulations in place for Facebook´s activities. Like fellow tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple, Facebook has for years enjoyed minimal regulation in Washington.
Separately Monday, a massive global outage plunged Facebook, Instagram and the company’s WhatsApp messaging platform into chaos, only gradually dissipating by late Monday Eastern time. For some users, WhatsApp was working for a time, then not. For others, Instagram was working but not Facebook, and so on.
Facebook didn’t say what might have caused the outage, which began around 11:40 a.m. EDT and was still not fixed more than six hours later.
‘As long as Facebook is operating in the dark, it is accountable to no one’: Whistleblower Frances Haugen’s opening testimony to Senate committee in full
Good afternoon Chairman Blumenthal, Ranking Member Blackburn, and Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you.
My name is Frances Haugen. I used to work at Facebook and joined because I think Facebook has the potential to bring out the best in us. But I am here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy.
The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.
Yesterday we saw Facebook get taken off the internet. I don’t know why it went down, but I know that for more than five hours, Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies. It also means that millions of small businesses weren’t able to reach potential customers. And countless photos of new babies weren’t joyously celebrated by friends and family around the world.
I believe in the potential of Facebook. We can have social media we enjoy that connects us without tearing apart our democracy, putting our children in danger and sowing ethnic violence throughout the world. We cam do better.
I have worked as a product manager at large tech companies since 2006, including Google, Pinterest, Yelp and Facebook. My job has largely focused on algorithmic products like Google+ Search and recommendation systems like the one that powers the Facebook News Feed. Having worked at four different types of social networks, I understand how complex and nuanced these problems are.
However, the choices being made inside Facebook are disastrous – for children, for public safety, for our privacy and for our democracy – that is why I came forward. And let’s be clear: it doesn’t have to be this way. We are here today because of deliberate choices Facebook has made.
I joined Facebook in 2019 because someone close to me was radicalized online. I felt compelled to take an active role in creating a better, less toxic Facebook. During my time at Facebook, first working as the lead product manager for Civic Misinformation and later on Counter-Espionage, I saw that Facebook repeatedly encountered conflicts between its own profits and our safety. Facebook consistently resolved those conflicts in favor of its own profits.
The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats and more combat. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people.
This is not simply a matter of some social media users being angry or unstable, or one side being radicalized against another. It’s about Facebook choosing to grow at all costs, becoming an almost $1trillion company by buying its profits with our safety.
During my time at Facebook I came to realize a devastating truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside of Facebook. The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, the US government, and governments around the world.
The documents I have provided prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled us about what its own research reveals about the safety of children, the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems, and its role in spreading divisive and extreme messages. I came forward because I believe every human being deserved the dignity of the truth.
The severity of this crisis demands that we break out of our previous regulatory frames. Facebook wants to trick you into thinking that privacy protections or changes to Section 230 will be sufficient. While important, these don’t get to the core of this issue, which is that no one truly understands the destructive choices made by Facebook except for Facebook. We can afford nothing less than full transparency.
As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is unaccountable. Until the incentives change, Facebook will not change. Left alone, it will continue to make choices that go against the common good. Our common good.
When we realized big tobacco was hiding the harms it caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seatbelts, the government took action. And when our government learned that opioids were taking lives, the government took action. I implore you to do the same here.
Today, Facebook shapes our perception of the world by choosing what information we see. Even those who don’t use Facebook are impacted by the radicalization of people who do. A company with control over our deepest thoughts, feeling and behaviors needs real oversight.
But Facebook’s closed design means it has no real oversight. Only Facebook knows how it personalizes your feed for you. At other large tech companies like Google, any independent researcher can download the company’s search results and write papers about what they find. And they do. But Facebook hides behind walls that keep the eyes of researchers and regulators from understanding the true dynamic of the system.
When the tobacco companies claimed that filtered cigarettes were safer for consumers, it was possible for scientists to independently invalidate that marketing message and confirm that in fact they posed a greater threat to human health. But today we can’t make this kind of independent assessment of Facebook. We have to just trust what Facebook says is true – and they have repeatedly proved they do not deserve our blind faith.
The inability to see into the actual systems of Facebook and confirm that Facebook’s systems work like they say is like the Department of Transport regulating cars by watching them drive down the highway. Imagine if no regulator could ride in a car, pump up its wheels, crash test a car, or even know that seat belts could exist.
Facebook’s regulators can see some of the problems – but they are kept blind to what is causing them and thus can’t craft specific solutions. They cannot even access the company’s own data on product safety, much less conduct an independent audit. How is the public supposed to assess if Facebook is resolving conflicts of interest in a way that is aligned with the public good if it has no visibility into how Facebook operates?
This must change.
Facebook wants you to believe that the problems we’re talking about are unsolvable. They want you to believe in false choices. They want you to believe you must choose between connecting with those you love online and your personal privacy. That in order to share fun photos of your kids with old friends, you must also be inundated with misinformation. They want you to believe that this is just part of the deal.
I am here to tell you today that’s not true. These problems are solvable. A safer, free speech-respecting, more enjoyable social media is possible. But if there is one thing that I hope everyone takes away from these disclosures it is that Facebook can change but clearly won’t do so on its own.
Congress can change the rules Facebook plays by and stop the many harms it is causing. We now know the truth about Facebook’s divisive impact.
I came forward, at great personal risk, because I believe we still have time to act. But we must act now.
Why DID Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger go down yesterday? Bungled server update led to a global outage that lasted almost seven HOURS – as experts warn foul play ‘can’t be ruled out’
Reporting by Sam Tonkin
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were all brought down for almost seven hours yesterday in a massive global outage.
Problems began at around 16:45 BST (11:45 ET), leaving users unable to access the three platforms, as well as Facebook Messenger and Oculus, for the rest of the evening.
Facebook, which owns all the services, has blamed the outage on a bungled server update and insists it was not an attack from outside the company.
The US tech giant said the problem was caused by a faulty update that was sent to its core servers, which effectively disconnected them from the internet.
But what exactly went wrong and why did it take more almost seven hours to fix? Here is MailOnline’s breakdown of the issue…
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were all brought down for almost seven hours yesterday in a massive global outage. The US tech giant said the problem was caused by a faulty update that was sent to its core servers, which effectively disconnected them from the internet
A Facebook staff member reportedly accidentally deleted large sections of the code (pictured) which keeps the website online
WHAT IS THE DOMAIN NAME SYSTEM AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Domain Name System, or DNS, is the directory of the internet.
Whenever you click on a link, send an email, open a mobile app, often one of the first things that has to happen is your device needs to look up the address of a domain.
There are two sides of the DNS network: the authoritative side, ie webpages and other content, and the resolver side, devices that are trying to access this content.
Every domain needs to have an authoritative DNS provider, servers which store DNS records. Amazon, Cloudflare and Google are among the bigger names in authoritative DNS server provision.
On the other side of the DNS system are resolvers. Every device that connects to the Internet needs a DNS resolver.
By default, these resolvers are automatically set by whatever network you’re connecting to.
So, for most Internet users, when they connect to an ISP, or a WiFi hot spot, or a mobile network, the network operator will dictate what DNS resolver to use.
The problem is that these DNS services are often slow and don’t respect your privacy.
What many Internet users don’t realise is that even if you’re visiting a website that is encrypted, indicated by the green padlock in your browser’s address bar, that doesn’t keep your DNS resolver from knowing the identity of all the sites you visit.
That means, by default, your ISP, every WiFi network you’ve connected to, and your mobile network provider have a list of every site you’ve visited while using them.
Why did Facebook go offline?
Facebook issued a statement saying the cause of the problem was a configuration change to the company’s ‘backbone routers’, which coordinate network traffic between the tech giant’s data centres.
‘This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt,’ the statement said.
Web security firm CloudFlare offered more details about what happened, revealing that Facebook had effectively vanished from the internet.
The social media company made a series of updates to its border gateway protocol (BGP), CloudFlare’s chief technology officer John Graham-Cunningham said, causing it to ‘disappear’.
The BGP allows for the exchange of routing information on the internet and takes people to the websites they want to access.
It is essentially the roadmap that transports you to the location of each website – known as the Domain Name System (DNS) – or its IP address.
As a consequence of the BGP problems, it meant DNS resolvers all over the world stopped resolving their domain names.
Why were Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger also down?
It wasn’t just Facebook that went offline – its associated services Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger were affected, too. Some people also reported issues with Facebook’s virtual reality headset platform, Oculus.
This is because the tech giant has a centralised, single back end for all of its products.
Facebook runs its own systems through the same servers, meaning everything needed to fix the problem – from digital engineering tools to messaging services, even key-fob door locks – was also taken offline.
Matthew Hodgson, co-founder and CEO of Element and Technical Co-founder of Matrix, said the outage illustrated the advantage of having a ‘more reliable’ decentralised system that doesn’t put ‘all the eggs in one basket’.
‘There’s no single point of failure so they can withstand significant disruption and still keep people and businesses communicating,’ he added.
It wasn’t just Facebook that went offline – its associated services Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger were affected, too. Some people also reported issues with Facebook’s virtual reality headset platform, Oculus
How many people were affected?
Downdetector, which tracks outages, said it was the biggest failure it has ever seen, with 10.6 million problem reports around the world.
In total, Facebook has 2.9 billion monthly active users.
The issues started at 16:44 BST (11:44 ET), with nearly 80,000 reports for WhatsApp and more than 50,000 for Facebook, according to DownDetector.
From around 22:30 BST (17:30 ET), some users were reporting that they were able to access the four platforms once again. However, Facebook did not work again for many people until at least an hour after that.
WhatsApp said it was back up at running ‘at 100 per cent’ as of 3:30 BST (22:30 ET) this morning.
Could it have been a cyber attack?
Interestingly, Facebook’s statement is carefully written and doesn’t rule out foul play.
That being said, the chances of it being an external cyber attack seem unlikely.
A massive denial-of-service hack that could overwhelm one of the world’s most popular sites would require either coordination among powerful criminal groups or a very innovative technique.
Sabotage by an insider, however, would be theoretically possible, according to tech experts.
What’s also eye-opening is that the outage hampered Facebook’s ability to address the problem, because it took down internal tools needed to fix it.
This meant the issue lasted for nearly seven hours, which is highly unusual.
Users around the world reported problems with Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp on Downdetector
RECENT FACEBOOK OUTAGES
Last month, a technical issue with Facebook-owned Instagram caused an outage that plagued users around the world for 16 hours.
Problems started just after 8am on Thursday. About 18 hours later, at 2am on Friday, Instagram announced the problem had been fixed.
However, the last time Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went down at the same time was in June.
More than a thousand people in countries including the United States, Morocco, Mexico, Bolivia and Brazil reported outages.
There were also two Facebook platform outages in March, with Instagram down on March 30, and all three down on March 19.
It compounded a difficult week for Facebook, which has faced accusations of easing up on efforts to stop misinformation, allowing hate to be magnified on its platforms and being aware that Instagram can harm teenage girls’ mental health.
The disruption also occurred just 24 hours after a former Facebook employee gave an interview to CBS News after leaking documents about the social network.
Whistleblower Frances Haugen, who is scheduled to testify before a Senate subcommittee today, said the company had prioritised ‘growth over safety’.
Facebook insisted it was ‘just not true’ to suggest the company encouraged bad content or did nothing in response.
Cybersecurity specialist Jake Moore said: ‘It is quite interesting that Facebook’s statement has not ruled out foul play.
‘Like the locks on a bank safe, the money inside is only as secure as the person with the keys – cybersecurity is as much about a company’s own internal security procedures as it is about fending off outsider attacks.’
He reiterated that it was ‘not due to an external cyber attack’ because web blackouts more often originate from an undiscovered software bug or human error.
So was it a mistake by someone within Facebook?
There’s every chance it could have been an accident rather than an intentional act of sabotage.
It has been claimed that a Facebook staff member may have accidentally deleted large sections of the code which keeps the website online.
Facebook said its engineering teams had identified ‘configuration changes’ to its backbone routers that brought its services to a halt.
The company said these changes caused a disruption to network traffic and blocked communication between its data centres. Employees’ work passes and email were also reportedly affected by the internal issue.
Why did it take so long to resolve the problem?
When Facebook’s platforms went offline, engineers rushed to the company’s data centres to reset the servers manually, only to find they couldn’t get inside.
New York Times’ technology reporter Sheera Frenkel told BBC’s Today programme this was part of the reason it took so long to fix the issue.
‘The people trying to figure out what this problem was couldn’t even physically get into the building’ to work out what had gone wrong, she said.
To make matters worse, one insider claimed the outage was further exacerbated because large numbers of staff are still working from home in the wake of Covid, meaning it took longer for them to get to the data centres.
Downdetector, which tracks outages, said it was the biggest failure it has ever seen, with 10.6 million problem reports around the world. Pictured, the issues starting at 16:44 BST (11:44 ET)
Engineers were rushed to the company’s data centres in Santa Clara, California (pictured), to reset the servers manually
Facebook has not yet gone into much detail about how the issue was finally fixed but it is understood that engineers had to manually reset the servers where the problem originated.
Software testing expert, Adam Leon Smith of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said: ‘It is unlikely the issues were directly caused by people working from home, however it is quite possible that it took so long to restore the service because of reduced staffing within the data centre.
‘This would compound the problem because the nature of the failure meant that remote access to the data centre was also unavailable.’
How much did the outage cost?
During the blackout, Facebook shares plunged by five per cent, wiping an estimated $7 billion (£5 million) off founder Mark Zuckerberg’s personal fortune.
The website Fortune also estimated that seven hours of downtime could have cost the company up to $100 million (£73 million) in lost ad revenue.
But it’s not just Facebook which will have lost out.
Businesses who rely on its services are also likely to have lost huge sums of money, although so far there have not been any cost estimates for exactly how much.
NetBlocks, which tracks internet outages and their impact, estimates that the outage cost the global economy $160 million (£117 million).
What are the chances of it happening again?
The huge global outage Facebook experienced is a fairly uncommon one, although there’s not a lot the company can do to avoid a similar situation because of its centralised back end system.
Along with the Fastly outage in June – caused by a single customer changing their settings – and Cloudflare going offline in 2020, it shows the problem of having a single point of failure for a huge number of services that people use.
There are currently no obvious solutions to this, but this latest outage is likely to reignite the debate around internet infrastructure.
For many individuals and businesses too, the incident showed just how much they depend on Facebook and its services not just to communicate, but also to log in to other platforms.
In response, people have been encouraged to consider using other credentials beyond their Facebook log-in details to access other online services.
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