Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen giving evidence to the joint committee for the Draft Online Safety Bill, as part of government plans for social media regulation.
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LONDON — Regulators have a small window of opportunity to act on the spread of hate speech and other harmful content on Facebook, whistleblower Frances Haugen told U.K. lawmakers Monday.
“When an oil spill happens, it doesn’t make it harder for us to regulate oil companies,” Haugen said at a hearing in U.K. Parliament on new legislation aimed at tackling harmful content online.
“Right now, Facebook is closing the door on us being able to act.”
Haugen hit the headlines earlier this month when she was revealed to be the whistleblower behind the leak of a cache of internal Facebook documents that, most notably, showed the company was aware of the harm caused by its Instagram app to teens’ mental health.
The ex-Facebook employee testified in U.S. Congress, accusing company management of prioritizing “profits before people,” a claim CEO Mark Zuckerberg described as “just not true.”
It marks one of the biggest crises in recent history for Facebook, and arrives as regulators around the world look to curb the sheer power and influence of America’s tech giants.
Over the weekend, a flood of new reports emerged based on additional leaked information from Haugen. One of the reports said Facebook was unprepared to deal with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building, citing internal documents. Another detailed the spread of hate speech and content inciting violence in India on Facebook’s services.
Another whistleblower, ex-Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, gave evidence to British lawmakers last week. Zhang said she was fired by the company after highlighting its alleged failure to combat election interference from governments in foreign countries. Facebook at the time said it “fundamentally” disagreed with Zhang’s characterizations of the company.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Haugen reiterated her claim that Facebook puts profits over people. She said the company refuses to introduce friction on the platform that discourages engagement in harmful content as “they don’t want to lose that growth.”
“Facebook has been unwilling to accept even a little sliver of profit being sacrificed for safety,” Haugen said.
Facebook was not immediately available for comment on Haugen’s testimony.
Haugen also slammed the work culture at Facebook as akin to that of a start-up. She said she often had “no idea” who to flag her concerns with when working at the company.
“There is a culture that lionizes a start-up ethic that, in my opinion, is irresponsible,” Haugen said, adding that the company’s leaders are reluctant to “slow the platform” down.
The tech executive, who previously worked at Google and Pinterest, said Facebook should hire 10,000 extra engineers to work on safety instead of 10,000 engineers to build the “metaverse.”
Haugen also questioned the role played by the Oversight Board, a Facebook-funded body that’s designed to hold the company to account over its content moderation decisions. She says Facebook “actively misled” the board about key aspects of how it makes moderation rulings.
“This is a defining moment for the Oversight Board,” Haugen said. “If Facebook can come in there and just actively mislead the Oversight Board, I don’t know what the purpose of the Oversight Board is.”
Damian Collins, chair of the U.K.’s joint committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill, called the organization “more of a hindsight board than an Oversight Board.”
Haugen recently accepted an invitation to meet with the Oversight Board.