Testimony in Congress this week from whistleblower Frances Haugen should prompt action to implement meaningful oversight of Facebook and other tech giants, influential California Democrat Adam Schiff told The Guardian in an interview that will be released on Sunday.
“I think we need regulations to protect people’s private data,” said the chairman of the House intelligence committee.
“I think we need to reduce the scope of the Safe Harbor these companies enjoy if they don’t moderate their content and continue to amplify anger and hatred. I think we need to insist on a vehicle for more transparency to better understand the data. “
Haugen, 37, was the source of a recent Wall Street Journal report on disinformation spread by Facebook and Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform. She quit Facebook in May this year, but her revelations have left the tech giant with its toughest questions since the Cambridge Analytica user privacy scandal.
At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Haugen shared internal reports on Facebook and argued that the social media giant puts “astronomical profits before people”, harming children and destabilizing democracy through content sharing inaccurate and a source of division.
Haugen likened Instagram’s appeal to tobacco, telling senators: “It’s like cigarettes… teens don’t have good self-regulation.
Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Haugen’s testimony could represent “big tobacco” for social media companies, a reference to the surveillance imposed despite testimony in Congress that their product was not harmful to the share of executives that companies knew to be.
Facebook founder and director Mark Zuckerberg has resisted proposals to overhaul America’s Internet regulatory framework, which is widely seen as woefully outdated.
He responded to Haugen’s testimony by saying that “the idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being” was “just not true”.
“The argument that we deliberately deliver content that angers people for profit is deeply illogical,” he said. “We make money from ads, and advertisers constantly tell us that they don’t want their ads to be next to harmful or angry content. “
Schiff was speaking on the occasion of the publication of a well-received new memoir, Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could.
The Democrat played a leading role in the investigation into Russia and the first impeachment of Donald Trump. He now sits on the select committee to investigate the deadly attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, by Trump supporters seeking to undo his electoral defeat – an effort fueled in part by misinformation on social media .
In his book, Schiff talks about asking representatives of Facebook and two other tech giants, Twitter and YouTube, if their “algorithms had the effect of balkanizing the public and deepening divisions in our society.”
Facebook’s general counsel at the 2017 hearing, writes Schiff, said: “The data on this is actually quite mixed.”
“It didn’t strike me as very mixed,” says Schiff.
When asked if he thought Haugen’s testimony would create enough pressure for Congress to pass new laws regulating social media companies, Schiff told The Guardian: “The answer is yes.
However, as a seasoned member of a bitterly divided and legislatively sclerotic Congress, he also warned of over-optimism among reform supporters.
“If you bet against Congress,” said Schiff, “you win 90% of the time.”