Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen for European Parliament hearing

Haugen said Facebook had built a machine through algorithms that operates on a basis wherein content that gives a dopamine kick to users is spread and amplified

Frances Haugen at the US congressional hearing
Frances Haugen at the US congressional hearing

MEPs will invite the ‘Facebook files’ whistleblower Frances Haugen to a public hearing on tech companies and the negative impacts of their products on users

Haugen is a data scientist by trade who used to be product manager for Facebook’s civic integrity department.

She left in May of 2021 disclosing thousands of internal Facebook security documents to the US congress and the Wall Street Journal. This event later became known as the ‘Facebook files’.

“Whistleblowers like Frances Haugen show the urgent need to set democratic rules for the online world in the interest of users,” German MEP Anna Cavazzini, chair of the EP’s internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO) said.

“Her revelations lay bare the inherent conflict between the platform’s business model and users’ interests. It shows that we need strong rules for content moderation and far-reaching transparency obligations in Europe.”

The IMCO is currently negotiating the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), a legislative package to regulate digital markets and create a secure online environment.

Discussions between MEPs are ongoing on how best to amend and improve proposals published by the European Commission in December 2020 on the DSA and the DMA.

“Getting this sort of legislation done right is another chance for Europe to shape the digital economy for years to come regionally, as well as distinguish itself as the promulgator of global standards,” Cavazzini said.

Voting in the committee on these amendments is scheduled for 8 November. Following that the projected deadline to initiate negotiations with the Council is some time in December provided the plenary endorses such action.

Haugen said she blew the whistle on Facebook out of a sense of duty and alarm stemming from what she described as “a pattern of behaviour wherein Facebook routinely prioritized profit over public safety.”

Apart from endangering users through a lacklustre approach to maintaining public safety there are also a litany of recent academic psychological studies that indicate high usage of Facebook and similar apps leads to higher levels of depression, anxiety and other mental issues in all age groups with high representation among the youth due to their high screen times.

At the US congressional hearing, Haugen declared that Facebook products “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.”

Haugen said Facebook had built a machine through algorithms that operates on a basis wherein content that gives a dopamine kick to users is spread and amplified.

 “It shows that corporate self-regulation has not worked,” Cavazzini said.

“With the Digital Services Act, the European Union is on the right track to fight hate speech and disinformation online by addressing business models that use algorithms to sell more advertising, even if this has a detrimental effect on society. We need to regulate the whole system that favours disinformation and violence over factual content – and we need to enforce it effectively.

“All allegations in the ‘Facebook Files’ must be investigated.”

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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