Whistleblower says Facebook apps 'harm children, stoke division'

WASHINGTON – Facebook knows its family of apps causes sweeping damage across a number of areas, but chooses to ignore its problems in preference for profit, a whistleblower alleged Tuesday.

Frances Haugen, an ex-Facebook product manager who leaked a trove of internal documents to the Wall Street Journal in what has become a public relations nightmare for the social network company, told lawmakers that "congressional action is needed" to rein in the firm.

"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've put their astronomical profits before people," she said in testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

"The choices being made inside Facebook are disastrous for our children, for our public safety, for our privacy, and for our democracy. And that is why we must demand Facebook make changes," she added.

She specifically said Facebook knows its Instagram algorithms "are leading young users to anorexia content."

The Senate hearing comes after the Wall Street Journal reported on Sept. 14 -- using documents leaked by Haugen -- that Facebook's internal studies conducted over the past three years demonstrated that Instagram is harmful to teenagers, especially girls.

Instagram's researchers concluded via a study that 32 percent of girls said that when they feel bad about their bodies, Instagram makes them feel worse. The slide presentation reviewed by the Journal also said, "Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves."

"We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls," a slide said from 2019.

"Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression," said another. "This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups."

Turning to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Haugen alleged that "there is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself," noting he has a majority of the company's shares. She maintained the "buck stops with Mark" on any problems caused by the company's sprawling app empire.

Amid her testimony, Facebook said Haugen "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."

"As she herself just said under oath, 'I don't work on Whistleblower says Facebook apps 'harm children, stoke division' it,'” spokesman Andy Stone said on Twitter. (Anadolu)