By Ryan Raiche
A United States senator from right here in Minnesota is escalating her fight against a tech giant with billions of users around the globe.
And after one of the most tumultuous years in Facebook’s storied history that included whistleblower testimony and damning internal research, it appears Sen. Amy Klobuchar is convincing others in Congress to join her fight.
“If I’ve got some power right now, I’ve got to use it for good,” Klobuchar said in an interview with 5 INVESTIGATES inside her Capitol Hill office late last year.
Klobuchar chairs the subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, which puts her in a unique position to dramatically change how Facebook and other tech companies operate.
“You make enemies when you’re taking on the biggest company.” she said.
But with rare bipartisan support, she is pushing new rules and regulations that she says would force Facebook to change its algorithms.
The company, which now goes by the name Meta, is accused of designing those complex formulas to amplify content that’s hateful, destructive, or simply not true.
“It pays off to be extreme,” Klobuchar said, adding that she’s seen it play out in social media posts in politics.
“If you see the more polarizing posts more, you start thinking that's all that matters in politics, and you miss some of the stuff in the middle on both sides,” she said.
The founder of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg, strongly disagrees with the accusations that its algorthrims push divisive content higher, calling it “deeply illogical.”
“Advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content,” he said last year.
Zuckerberg’s comments were part of an aggressive campaign launched by Facebook to push back against a former employee and whistleblower who testified before Congress last fall.
Frances Haugen, who also turned over internal documents and research, warned members of Congress that Facebook is putting profits over safety.
“I am here today because I believe Facebook harms children, stokes division, and weakens our democracy,” she said. “They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”
Klobuchar was among the senators on the other side of the table.
“I think what Francis Haugen did is she finally was the catalyst for some action,” she said. “Before it was just all numbers and hearings and just a lot of complex economists talking. And this was real.”
Klobuchar, who has served in the Senate since 2007, has been yearning to reign in companies like Facebook for several years following multiple scandals centered around the collection of users’ data.
One of her tech-related bills that would address competition is scheduled for a committee vote in January before heading to the full senate.
In a statement to 5 INVESTIGATES, a Meta spokesperson said the company has been calling for Congress to take action for years.
“The best way to tackle the challenges facing today’s internet is by passing new regulations addressing … content moderation, election integrity and privacy,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
But a Washington, D.C., trade group that lobbies on behalf of companies like Facebook argues big government has no place in big tech.
“The best thing we can do is to let these private businesses be the ones to decide what is best for their users,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice.
His group argues that any regulation of social media companies should start in the user's home.
“The decision of whether Facebook is safe for teens is a decision parents have to make for themselves,” he said. “I trust myself and my wife much more than I trust bureaucrats in D.C.”