Senator Richard Blumenthal opened the hearing with opening statements in which he made the revelations about the Facebook von Haugen made it public and condemned the company for primarily pursuing profit.
He jotted one of the biggest bombs out of the documents – evidence that Facebook knew its products harm teenagers and uses its algorithms “to heighten their insecurities.”
“Your gain was more important than the pain it caused,” he said.
Blumenthal drew parallels between Facebook and Big Tobacco – a comparison that a number of senators have drawn after Haugen’s whistleblowing. He said Big Tech is about to have its “Big Tobacco Moment”.
“There is documented evidence that Facebook knows its products can be addictive and toxic to children, and not only did they make money – it’s also that they valued their products more than the pain they caused children and added to their families, ”he said.
“The damage Facebook is doing to self-esteem today will haunt a generation,” he added. “Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity as well as rejection and self-hatred will influence this generation for years to come.”
Haugen said Facebook had proven it could do more to solve its problems than it did for several weeks of changing its content guidelines in the context of the 2020 US election.
At that time, the company deliberately gave political content a lower priority in its news feed. But it soon went back to old algorithms that valued engagement above everything else.
“These documents, which you revealed, provided this company with a blueprint for reform and made specific recommendations that could have made Facebook and Instagram more secure,” said Blumenthal.
“The company has repeatedly ignored these recommendations from its own researchers,” said Blumenthal. “Facebook, as you put it, maximizes profits so much and ignores pain.”
He presented a letter from 52 attorneys general as evidence about the need to hold Facebook accountable.
Blumenthal also promoted the legislation he introduced with Senator Ed Markey. Called the KIDS Act, it would regulate designing the social platform to minimize harm.