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‘The bully follows them home’: 5 major takeaways from the Facebook whistleblower hearing

What you need to know about the Facebook hearing that happened Tuesday

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Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen on Capitol Hill.

Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen listens during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Washington.

Drew Angerer/Pool via Associated Press

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress Tuesday, spilling details and massive revelations about Facebook.

Haugen’s comments have been the talk of the town in Big Tech circles this week. Haugen, a former Facebook employee, shared her thoughts on the company this week to demonstrate how harmful the social media app can be.

Haugen said over the weekend in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that Facebook is harming society overall, causing problems for all people who use the platform.

“The version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world,” Haugen told “60 Minutes.”

She also told “60 Minutes” that the app is forsaking public good for profit. The company’s leadership, she said, is not trying to make everything safe for everyone.

“There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money,” Haugen said.

Haugen had more to say about Facebook during the hearing. Of course, this is only her side of the story in her testimony. Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone pushed back against her claims, saying that she didn’t work with all departments.

“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,” he tweeted.

Facebook is ‘just like cigarettes’

Haugen compared Facebook to Big Tobacco and the opioid epidemic, saying that they are all addictions that have become widespread. The U.S. government doesn’t know enough about the social media app to take action on it, she said, which is similar to how the government acted with the tobacco industry and opioids. Once the government had enough data against tobacco, cigarettes and opioids, they decided to act on it, she said. But Facebook will intentionally keep details about the company private to avoid any action being taken against it.

“It’s just like cigarettes. Teenagers don’t have good self-regulation,” Haugen said.

Facebook focuses on dopamine

Haugen suggested that Facebook puts an emphasis on a rewards-based culture. She said people will post something, which will create an ounce of dopamine in their friend, who will then post something and engage more with the platform, too. Like so many other social media platforms, dopamine seems to be at the center of the habits of the users, she said.

Facebook knows it impacts the high school experience

Facebook knows that Instagram can change the habits of the high school experience, she said. Back in the day, people could go home from high school without dealing with their peers. Now, they can be bullied on Instagram or face massive pressure from their high school classmates on Facebook.

“The bully follows them home,” she said.

She added, “Children express feelings of loneliness in dealing with these things.”

A report from The Wall Street Journal in September suggested that Facebook and Instagram internal researchers know that Instagram is a toxic app for teen girls, often leading to anxiety and depression.

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide, according to WSJ. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Facebook only listens to metrics

Haugen said data and metrics sit at the center of all the company’s decisions, and a large part of that is due to Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership. He has put a focus on metrics over how the app impacts people directly.

“Mark has built an organization that is very metrics-driven. It is intended to be flat. There is no unilateral responsibility,” Haugen said. “The metrics make the decision.”

Facebook is researching children

Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., asked Haugen about Facebook potentially doing research into children and their habits on the social media platform. Haugen said Facebook has been “doing research on children under the age of 13 and those studies are included in my disclosure.”

What’s next?

It’s unclear where Congress will go from here. Several Congress members spoke about working together on new legislation to hold Big Tech and companies like Facebook accountable for what has happened on their platforms.

“The fact that we’re being asked [about] these false choices is just an illustration of what happens when the real solutions are hidden inside of companies,” Haugen said, per The Verge. “We need more tech employees to come forward through legitimate channels like the SEC or Congress to make sure that the public has the information they need in order to have technologies be human-centric, not computer-centric.”