But some of the company’s biggest critics say Congress shouldn’t take her cues on legislation.
Haugen gave lawmakers a long list of proposals at a Senate hearing Tuesday, from creating a new digital regulatory agency to placing more data transparency requirements on companies to opening social media platforms up to liability for algorithmically amplifying certain content.
While the session focused on how children are exposed to harmful content online, her testimony outlined how these ideas could help mitigate concerns about Facebook’s handling of election misinformation, data privacy, national security and more. (Facebook itself has been calling for new internet regulations for years.)
But Haugen rejected calls to break up Facebook, saying that the company’s problems are “about the design of algorithms,” and that splitting it up wouldn’t change that.
And she largely sidestepped concerns about competition in the digital marketplace, which has been a major focus of congressional efforts to rein in Silicon Valley giants.
“Frances has not been primarily concerned with antitrust matters,” John Tye, her lawyer, told my colleague Cat Zakrzewski during a Washington Post Live event Wednesday.
Daniel Hanley, a senior legal analyst at the anti-monopoly group Open Markets Institute, said Haugen’s focus is misplaced because it doesn’t target the underlying business model that critics say is the root of Facebook’s abusive conduct.
And her proposals, Hanley and other progressive advocates argued, stop well short of meaningfully curtailing the harms caused by the company.
“We’re still trying to put Band-Aids on a leg that’s not even there, that’s been ripped off, so to speak,” he said. “Band-Aids aren’t going to cut it.”
Other critics argued that focusing on proposals to address harmful content on the site lets Facebook off the hook because they’re less threatening to its business.
American Economic Liberties Project research director Matt Stoller, and freelance writer and former Intercept reporter Zaid Jilani:
Neil Chilson, a senior research fellow at the libertarian leaning Charles Koch Institute, said he agrees with Haugen that you can’t trace concerns about harmful content back to antitrust.
“Antitrust is not the right tool to deal with these complicated problems,” said Chilson, who previously served as chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission.
But he said he does disagree with her proposal to create a new digital regulatory agency, which could be easily co-opted and blunted by industry giants.
“That’s just a recipe for regulatory capture,” Chilson said.
Charlotte Slaiman, director of competition at the consumer group Public Knowledge, said she didn’t see Haugen’s proposals as being in conflict with others aimed at addressing concerns around competition and antitrust. They’re just different means to different ends.
“There's a lot of different problems that we're trying to address, and so we're going to need a lot of different tools,” she said.
And even if Haugen’s proposals don’t exactly align with what lawmakers may look to advance, Slaiman said, she can still be a powerful voice in the push to regulate the company.
“I think what it's building momentum for is concern about the power of these platforms and what they are doing with it,” she said.
Senate panel investigating Jan. 6 riot to meet with Facebook whistleblower
The Senate Homeland Security Committee confirmed to The Technology 202 it plans to meet with Haugen, who has piqued the interest of congressional investigators by accusing Facebook of contributing to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Haugen was also set to meet as early as Wednesday with the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection, CNN reported. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of its members, tweeted Monday that the panel “will need to hear from her, and get internal info from Facebook to flesh out their role.” Tye, Haugen’s lawyer, confirmed they had been in touch with the panel Wednesday.
Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) last month called on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to provide the panel with information about their handling of violent and extremist content as part of the panel’s investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection, setting a deadline for them to respond by this past Monday.
Nick Clegg, Facebook's global affairs chief, pushed back on claims the company is partially to blame for Jan. 6 last Sunday, telling CNN, “I think if the assertion is that January 6th can be explained because of social media, I just think that's ludicrous.”
The list of lawmakers and panels looking to hear from Haugen is growing rapidly, as officials are eager to dig into her views on a wide range of issues facing Facebook.
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Google and YouTube are banning ads promoting false claims about climate change
The company will also not allow websites and YouTube users to earn ad revenue from content that “contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change,” the New York Times’s Daisuke Wakabayashi and Tiffany Hsu report.
Content referring to climate change as a hoax, denying a long-term trend of the Earth’s warming and denying that humans are contributing to the problem will be included under the policy.
Google will begin to enforce the policy in November.
A developer says Facebook banned his account after he made a browser extension to combat addiction to the site
Facebook sent developer Louis Barclay a cease-and-desist letter in July after he made a tool to allow Facebook users to automatically unfollow everything on the site, Barclay told Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky. Hours before he received the letter, Barclay noticed that he was banned from the site.
Swiss researchers were using the tool to study happiness and Facebook use, Barclay said. The cease-and-desist letter says Barclay's tool “facilitates unauthorized functionality on Facebook” and automates actions like “mass following and unfollowing.” It also said the tool “impermissibly makes use of Facebook's trademarks.”
The cease-and-desist letter came a month before Facebook disabled accounts belonging to researchers at the New York University Ad Observatory, which tracks Facebook digital ads. Haugen told Congress this week that “Facebook hides behind walls that keeps researchers and regulators from understanding the true dynamics of their system.” The company also reorganized its CrowdTangle team in April after the tool drew attention to the high levels of engagement that right-wing pages were getting, the New York Times' Kevin Roose reported. The company did not respond to a request for comment from Protocol.
Rant and rave
Time Magazine's new cover features Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. But observant viewers of a teaser for the cover noticed that it used a computer cursor with an iPhone design element. The New York Times's Kevin Roose and Bloomberg Businessweek's Silvia Killingsworth:
Input Mag and Inverse's Tom Caswell:
Inside the industry
Jennifer Huddleston is joining NetChoice as policy counsel. She previously worked as the American Action Forum's director of technology and innovation policy.