Facebook whistleblower testifies to Congress: Facebook “harms children”


Ea Perkins

Frances Haugen testifies to Congress about the harm she perceives Facebook’s apps can do to democracy and children. “It is causing teenagers to be exposed to more anorexia content. It is pulling families apart. And in places like Ethiopia, it’s literally fanning ethnic violence,” Haugen said. (Ea Perkins)

Facebook Whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who recently revealed herself to the public on 60 minutes, testified before the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection on Oct. 5 about Facebook’s alleged harm to children and democracy.

“I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” Haugen told the subcommittee. She went on to allege that Facebook knows how to make its products safer but refuses to do so because they put their profits before the people who use their apps. 

In her testimony, Haugen called for Congress to regulate social media, comparing it to the government taking action against Tobacco companies hiding information about the harm that their products cause and saying that Facebook will not solve the issues without their help.

After Haugen finished her testimony, Facebook released a statement attempting to discredit her. 

“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 with C-level executives — and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question,” Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s director of policy communications, said. 

The former Facebook product manager had previously leaked thousands of pages of internal documents from Facebook to the Security and Exchange Commision and the Wall Street Journal, which wrote a series called The Facebook Files based on that information. The documents showed that Facebook may have been aware of the issues with its apps, including Instagram’s negative effects on young user’s body image. 

“What’s super tragic is Facebook’s own research says, as these young women begin to consume this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more. And so, they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more. Facebook’s own research says it is not just that Instagram is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers, it’s that it is distinctly worse than other forms of social media,” Haugen said in her 60 minutes interview. 

According to a Wall Street Journal report, an internal presentation from Facebook found that “32 percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies Instagram made them feel worse.”

Facebook has currently halted their work on an Instagram app for kids aged 10 to 12 following the document leak. 

A day before Haugen testified, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp shut down for more than five hours. 

Haugen commented on the shutdown in her testimony saying “Yesterday, we saw Facebook get taken off the internet. I don’t know why it went down, but I know that for more than 5 hours Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies, and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies.

It also means that millions of small businesses weren’t able to reach potential customers and countless photos of new babies weren’t joyously celebrated by family and friends around the world. I believe in the potential of Facebook. We can have social media we enjoy, that connects us, without tearing apart our democracy, putting our children in danger and sowing ethnic violence across the world. We can do better.”