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Former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen appeared before the Senate Commerce subcommittee. Photo: Getty Images
Former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen appeared before the Senate Commerce subcommittee. Photo: Getty Images

Facebook whistleblower goes before Congress and dishes on platform's effect on teens

Facebook is going through one of its darkest times, and Monday's massive failure was followed by explosive revelations in Congress.

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On Tuesday, Oct. 5, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen appeared before the Senate Commerce subcommittee to talk about how the company has set aside its responsibility to users to profit from sensitive issues such as teen mental health and privacy. 

Haugen appeared before Congress with internal documents she obtained before leaving the company in May, and with which she had already filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission, pointing out that Facebook withheld information from shareholders on issues such as teen mental health and human trafficking.

For Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Haugen's statements will be of great importance in the investigation being conducted on the social media giant for hiding studies that show that social media, especially Instagram, have an effect on the mental health of teenagers — an issue that Congress has been investigating for the past months. 

At a press conference after the hearing, Blumenthal asked Mark Zuckerberg to appear before the committee if he believes there are any inaccuracies in Haugen's testimony, and that he has a "public responsibility to answer these questions." 

"Mark Zuckerberg may be one of the richest people in the history of the world, but today Frances Haugen showed that one person can stand up to that kind of power and make a difference,” the senator said. 

While the senators and a number of people in the general public see Haugen as a heroine for daring to talk about issues Facebook has sworn to secrecy, inside the company, many have tried to undercut her claims, saying she had an intermediate position and neither made decisions nor had direct contact with those who made them.

Facebook spokeswoman Lena Pietsch hit back at lawmakers by stating that: "Despite all this, we agree on one thing; it’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet. It’s been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act."

Likewise, to the company's employees, Haugen is either a hero or a vindictive former employee who is taking advantage of a situation. According to the New York Times, some workers also believe this kind of scrutiny is good for Facebook, as it forces it to work on such sensitive issues rather than hiding them and handling them internally.

Haugen's revelations

While what Haugen said before Congress had already been widely discussed, her testimony is evidence of Facebook's intentional hiding of information. 

Haugen spoke at length during the hearing about research conducted over the past three years showing that both Facebook and Instagram can affect teenagers' mental health and body image, and that Instagram exacerbates physical image issues teenage girls may already have. 

She also revealed that she supports the investigation of another committee reviewing the platform's problems with surveillance and cyber espionage and that due to a lack of staff, the company is not very clear on how countries like China, Iran or Russia are using the platform. 

Facebook's losses

Adding to Haugen's revelations, Facebook suffered one of the largest outages on Monday, Oct. 4. Some 3 billion people were left off Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp applications for more than eight hours, generating chaos and million-dollar losses for the company and for its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. 

Facebook lost more than $10 billion in market value, while Zuckerberg's personal wealth was also affected by $6.6 billion, dropping to fifth place among the richest people in the world. 

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