White House says Facebook whistleblower’s remarks show ‘self-regulation’ not working

Facebook employee says platform excacerbating conflict around the world

John Bowden
Monday 04 October 2021 17:10 EDT
White House says Facebook whistleblower’s remarks show ‘self-regulation’ not working

White House press secretary Jen Psaki took aim at Facebook on Monday during her daily press briefing, arguing that comments from a former Facebook employee on CBS’s 60 Minutes proved that the tech sector’s efforts to regulate itself was not working.

Speaking from behind the White House podium, Ms Psaki made clear that the Biden administration wanted to see greater federal oversight of tech companies that have for now managed control of speech and violent or hateful rhetoric on their platforms themselves.

The comments of Frances Haugen on 60 Minute “validate the significant concern that the president and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed about how social media giants operate and the power they have amassed”.

Her remarks were “just the latest revelations” that point to the fact that “self-regulation is not working”, she continued.

The smackdown from the White House came as Facebook was experiencing a major outage, with reporters tweeting information from sources at the company who described chaos behind the scenes as employees communicated through text message and email.

Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder, lost billions as Facebook’s stock plunged amid the outage, which extended to the company’s Instagram and WhatsApp services as well.

“We’re aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products. We’re working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience,” the company said on rival platform Twitter.

Democrats have expressed interest in increasing federal regulation of Facebook and other social media platforms for years as hate speech, misinformation about health crises including Covid-19 and other issues have continued to be prevalent across platforms throughout the tech sector. Little action has been taken by Congress, however, and the issue is complicated by frequent complaints from Republicans about the alleged targeting of their views by content moderators.

In an interview over the weekend, Ms Haugen described how Facebook had, in her words, chosen “profit over safety” and ignored warnings about growing misinformation and violent rhetoric. Facebook has strongly pushed back against her claims, and stressed that it works to eliminate violent rhetoric from its platforms.

“I’ve seen a bunch of social networks and it was substantially worse at Facebook than what I had seen before,” she said. “Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety.”

A Facebook spokesperson countered in a statement to The New York Times that the company continues “to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content,” adding, “to suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true”.

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