On December 1, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing entitled “Holding Big Tech Accountable: Targeted Reforms to Tech’s Legal Immunity.” The hearing focused on how social media platforms are profiting off of toxic and illegal content on their sites. During the hearing, lawmakers discussed possible legislative reforms.
The hearing featured testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. Haugen previously testified in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security on October 5.
Haugen has filed multiple whistleblower disclosures to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) outlining her allegations. Her disclosures are based upon the legal theory that Facebook is violating U.S. securities laws by misleading the public and shareholders about its handling of criminal and illicit content on the site. This theory has been deployed by several other SEC whistleblowers over the past several years. Haugen’s allegations further supplement similar allegations made in those confidential filings.
At the House Subcommittee hearing, Haugen began her testimony by stating: “My name is Frances Haugen. I used to work at Facebook. I joined the company because I believe Facebook has the potential to bring out the best in us. But I am here today because I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division in our communities, threaten our democracy, weaken our national security and much more. Facebook is a company that has paid for its immense profits with our safety and security.”
Haugen continued by detailing the choices Facebook has made to prioritize profit over public safety. “Facebook’s choices have led to disastrous ends in too many cases. Facebook’s amplification promotes violence that harms and even kills people. In other cases, Facebook’s profit-optimizing machine is generating self-harm and self-hate — especially for vulnerable groups, like teenage girls, the socially isolated, and the recently widowed. And no one is held accountable.”
Haugen further explains that Facebook has continually been misleading about its handling of these issues: “The company’s leadership keeps vital information from the public, the U.S. government, its shareholders, 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, its role in spreading hateful and polarizing messages, and so much more.”
In conclusion, Haugen called for legislative reforms which allow for more access to Facebook and other Big Tech companies. “We need to open up the black box at Facebook. We need additional capacity to investigate the problems these products cause, and the ability to audit what they tell us, because we have learned they cannot be trusted,” she told the subcommittee.
Since 2016, the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) has been working to hold social media companies accountable for unchecked criminal activity on their websites. NWC has worked alongside the Alliance to Counter Crime Online and whistleblower law firm Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto to aid whistleblowers in filing SEC complaints against Facebook and other Big Tech companies.
Following a SEC whistleblower disclosure filed against Facebook in October, 2021, NWC Executive Director Siri Nelson stated, “[h]ow many whistleblowers must come forward for Facebook to end this dishonesty and admit that it cannot root out this heinous and illegal activity on their platform? We commend these relentless Facebook whistleblowers for making crucial disclosures and call upon the SEC to take needed corrective action. Enforcement agencies cannot continue to treat massive tech companies like start-ups when the influence of Facebook spans billions of users and the whistleblowers’ serious allegations relate to the public good. Multi-billion-dollar sanctions are the only thing that will change conduct at companies as large as Facebook.”