What We Learned from the Facebook Whistleblower Hearing

ImageFrances Haugen, a whistle-blower who exposed Facebook’s own research on the negative impacts of its platforms, testified in an Oct. 5 Senate hearing.
Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

A Facebook whistle-blower told lawmakers at a hearing on Tuesday that the company can effectively police at most about a fifth of the vaccine misinformation that appears on its platform.

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager for the company’s civic misinformation team who released a trove of internal documents demonstrating the social media company’s negative impacts, testified on Capitol Hill about a wide range of issues, briefly touching on the problem of virus misinformation.

Facebook and other online platforms like YouTube and Twitter have helped turbocharge the spread of false information about the coronavirus, vaccines and supposed cures, like the livestock deworming drug Ivermectin. The company said in February that it planned to remove posts that contained inaccurate statements about vaccines from its platform and has since last year been vocal about removing coronavirus misinformation.

But posts and groups spreading false information related to the coronavirus continued to appear. In July President Biden said Facebook was “killing people” through the inaccurate information it spread, though he walked the comment back after the company objected.

On Tuesday, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota asked Ms. Haugen whether Facebook had dedicated enough resources to removing coronavirus falsehoods, noting that YouTube said last week that it would ban all anti-vaccine misinformation.

“I do not believe Facebook, as currently structured, has the capability to stop vaccine misinformation,” Ms. Haugen said.

She added that Facebook said that its efforts were only likely to remove “10 to 20 percent of content.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Credit…Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In a virtual news conference immediately after the hearing Tuesday, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee heaped praise on their witness.

“I have rarely if ever seen or heard as credible or compelling a witness on an issue so difficult or challenging,” Mr. Blumenthal said of Frances Haugen, the former Facebook product manager who testified. “Francis Haugen wants to fix Facebook, not burn it to the ground.”

Their defense of Ms. Haugen, who filed a whistle-blower complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission claiming the social media giant withheld material information from shareholders regarding topics as varied as teen mental health and human trafficking on the platform, comes as Facebook’s public relations team has sought to undermine her credibility.

“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…

Read More: What We Learned from the Facebook Whistleblower Hearing

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Live News

Get more stuff like this
in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.