FACEBOOK WHISTLEBLOWER FRANCES HAUGEN TO KLOBUCHAR ON MISINFORMATION: “I do not believe Facebook, as it’s currently structured, has the capability to stop vaccine misinformation”
HAUGEN TO KLOBUCHAR ON TREATMENT OF RESEARCHERS: “The fact that Facebook is throwing them under the bus I think is unacceptable”
WASHINGTON – At today’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) questioned Haugen on the company’s approach to combating coronavirus vaccine misinformation and treatment of both internal and external researchers.
When asked by Klobuchar if Facebook has adequate resources in place to stop the proliferation of coronavirus vaccine misinformation, Haugen responded: “I do not believe Facebook, as it’s currently structured, has the capability to stop vaccine misinformation, because they’re overly reliant on artificial intelligence systems that they themselves say will likely never get more than 10 to 20 percent of content.”
Later in the questioning, Klobuchar asked Haugen if she is concerned about Facebook’s treatment of researchers studying the platform, to which Haugen said: “Some of the biggest heroes inside the company are the researchers, because they are boldly asking real questions and being willing to say awkward truths. The fact that Facebook is throwing them under the bus I think is unacceptable…”
Klobuchar has been a leader in the fight against coronavirus and vaccine-related misinformation. In July, she and Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced new legislation to hold digital platforms accountable for the spread of health-related misinformation online during public health emergencies. This legislation followed a letter Klobuchar and Luján sent to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg highlighting a report issued by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which found that approximately 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter can be attributed to the “Disinformation Dozen” – 12 individuals who play leading roles in spreading digital disinformation about coronavirus vaccines. In light of these findings, Klobuchar and Luján called on Dorsey and Zuckerberg to remove these individuals from their social media platforms, which resulted in Twitter taking action against six users and issuing one permanent account suspension and Facebook taking action against several users.
In January, Klobuchar and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Gary Peters (D-MI) sent a letter to Dorsey, Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki calling on them to combat the spread of false and misleading information related to coronavirus vaccines.
Last year, Klobuchar joined Peters and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to introduce the COVID-19 Misinformation & Disinformation Task Force Act, which would create a COVID-19 Misinformation & Disinformation Task Force led by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA). The Task Force would consist of representatives from a variety of federal agencies and would be responsible for creating an awareness campaign to help inform the public of the risks of misinformation and disinformation related to the pandemic, including explanations of how foreign adversaries may use the pandemic to change American’s opinions or cause panic.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you very much, and thank you to both of you for your leadership. All three of us are on the Judiciary Committee so we’re also working on a host of other issues, including the app store issues, which is related to Facebook actually, including issues relating to dominant platforms when they promote their own content or engage in exclusionary conduct, which I know is not our topic today. I see the thumbs up from you Ms. Haugen, which I appreciate – and I think this idea of establishing some rules of the road for these tech platforms goes beyond kid protection, that we so dearly need to do, and I just want to make sure you agree with me on that?
Ms. Haugen: Yes, totally. I was shocked when I saw the New York Times story a couple weeks ago about Facebook using its own platform to promote positive news about itself. I was like wow, I knew you shaped our reality, I wasn’t aware it was that much.
Sen. Klobuchar: Right, and that's a lot of the work that we’re doing over there. So I want to get to something Senator Young was talking about, misinformation. And Senator Luján and I have put together an exception, actually, to the 230 immunity when it comes to vaccine misinformation in the middle of a public health crisis. Last week, YouTube announced it was swiftly banning all anti-vaccine misinformation, and I've long called on Facebook to take similar steps. And they've taken some steps but do you think they could remove this content, and if they put sufficient resources, we know the effectiveness. We know that over half the people who have gotten the vaccines just because of something that they’ve seen on social media.
I know the guy, I walked into a cafe and said his mother-in-law wouldn’t get a vaccine because she thought a microchip would be planted in her arm. Could you -- which is false, I'm just saying that for the record here, in case it gets put on social media. Could you talk about are there enough resources to stop this from happening?
Ms. Haugen: I do not believe Facebook, as it’s currently structured, has the capability to stop vaccine misinformation, because they’re overly reliant on artificial intelligence systems that they themselves say will likely never get more than 10 to 20 percent of content.
Sen. Klobuchar: There you go, and yet it's a company that what -- the capital, over a trillion dollars? One of the world’s biggest companies that we’ve ever known, and that’s what really bothers me here. Senator Luján and I also have pointed out the issue with content moderators. Does Facebook have enough content moderations for content in Spanish and other languages besides English?
Ms. Haugen: One of the things that was disclosed, we have documentation that shows how much operational investment there was by different languages, and it showed a consistent pattern of underinvestment in languages that are not English. I am deeply concerned about Facebook’s ability to operate in a safe way in languages beyond maybe the top 20 in the world.
Sen. Klobuchar: Okay, thank you. We go back to eating disorders. Today you’ve said that you have documents indicating Facebook is doing studies on kids under 13, even though technically no kids under 13 are permitted on the platform. The potential for eating disorder content to be shown to these children raises serious concerns. Senator Blumenthal’s been working on this, I’ve long been focused on this eating disorder issue given the mortality rates. Are you aware of studies Facebook has conducted about whether kids under 13 -- under 13 -- on the platform are nudged towards content related to eating disorders or unhealthy diet practices? CNN also did an investigation on this front.
Ms. Haugen: I have not seen specific studies regarding eating disorders in under the age of 13, but I have seen research that indicates that they are aware that teenagers coach tweens who are on the platform to not reveal too much, to not post too often, and that they have categorized that as a myth, that you can’t be “authentic” on the platform. And that the marketing team should talk, try to advertise to teenagers to stop coaching teens that way. So I believe we’ve shared that document with Congress already.
Sen. Klobuchar: Exactly. Well, thank you, and we’ll be looking more. Speaking of the research issue, Facebook has tried to downplay the internal research that was done, saying it was unreliable. It seems to me that they’re trying to mislead us there. The research was extensive, surveying hundreds of thousands of people traveling around the world to interview users. In your view, are the internal researchers at Facebook who examine how users are affected by the platform, is their work thorough? Are they experienced -- is it fair for Facebook to throw them under the bus?
Ms. Haugen: Facebook has one of the top-ranked research programs in the tech industry, like they’ve invested more in it than I believe any other social media platform. Some of the biggest heroes inside the company are the researchers, because they are boldly asking real questions and being willing to say awkward truths. The fact that Facebook is throwing them under the bus I think is unacceptable, and I just want the researchers to know that I stand with them and that I see them.
Sen. Klobuchar: Or maybe we should say, as the name of one book, the ugly truth. What about Facebook blocking researchers at NYU from accessing the platform? Does that concern you? These are outside researchers.
Ms. Haugen: I am deeply concerned, so for context for those who are not familiar with this research, there are researchers at NYU who, because Facebook does not publish enough data on political advertisements or how they are distributed, these are advertisements that influence our democracy and how it operates, they created a plugin that allowed people to opt-in, to volunteer, to help collect this data collectively, and Facebook lashed out at them and even banned some of their individual accounts. The fact that Facebook is so scared of even basic transparency that it goes out of its way to block researchers who are asking awkward questions shows you the need for Congressional oversight and why we need to do federal research and federal regulations on this.
Sen. Klobuchar: Very good, thank you. Thank you for your work.
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