The U.S. government acted against tobacco companies when they covered up the harm caused and forced automakers to install seat belts. Yet, it allows Facebook to operate without any degree of control even from its own oversight panel, whistleblower Frances Haugen said today at a hearing of Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Facebook chooses what information billions of people see, shaping their perception, with even non-users becoming radicalized due to what is featured on the platform.
"A company with control over our deepest thoughts, feelings and behaviors needs real oversight," said Haugen, according to her prepared statement.
She alleged that Facebook hides behind walls that keep the eyes of researchers and regulators from understanding the true dynamics of the system.
Haugen said independent scientists were able to debunk Big Tobacco's PR claim that filtered cigarettes were safer only because independent researchers confirmed the cancer link.
But because of Facebook's closed design, we must trust its pitch that it does not harm children, stoke division and weaken democracies around the world.
That inability to probe the actual systems of Facebook would be like the Department of Transportation regulating cars by watching them drive down the highway. "Imagine if no regulator could ride in a car, pump up its wheels, crash test a car, or even know that seat belts could exist," said Haugen.
Facebook's regulators, who are denied access to the company's data on product safety, can see some of the problems — but they are kept blind to what is causing them and thus cannot craft specific solutions.
"How is the public supposed to assess if Facebook is resolving conflicts of interest in a way that is aligned with the public good if it has no visibility and no context into how Facebook really operates?" she said.
If Facebook is operating in the dark, it is accountable to no one. And it will continue to make choices that go against the common good, according to Haugen.
She said Facebook wants people to believe they must surrender a measure of their privacy for the joy of connecting with loved ones online. And, they must be bombarded with misinformation to be able to share photos with old friends.
"I am here to tell you today that's not true. Those problems are solvable. A safer, more enjoyable social media is possible," concluded Haugen, in urging Congress to change the rules Facebook plays by and stop the harm it is causing.