Senator Richard Blumenthal has kicked off the hearing with opening statements, laying out the revelations about Facebook made public by Haugen and condemning the company for pursuing profit above all else.
He noted one of the biggest bombshells from the documents – proof that Facebook knew its products were harming teenagers and uses its algorithms “to amplify their insecurities”.
“Their profit was more important than the pain that it caused,” he said.
Blumenthal drew parallels between Facebook and Big Tobacco – a comparison a number of Senators have made in the wake of Haugen’s whistleblowing. He said Big Tech is facing its “Big Tobacco moment”.
“There is documented proof that Facebook knows its products can be addictive and toxic to children, and it is not just that they made money – it’s that they valued their more than the pain they caused to children and their families,” he said.
“The damage to self worth, inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation,” he added. “Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity and rejection and self-hatred will impact this generation for years.”
Haugen said Facebook proved it could do more to address its problems when it changed content policies for several weeks surrounding the 2020 US elections.
At that time, she said, the company deliberately gave a lower priority to political content on its news feed. But it soon went back to old algorithms that valued engagement over all else.
“These documents that you have revealed provided this company with a blueprint for reform have provided specific recommendations that could have made, Facebook and Instagram safer,” Blumenthal said.
“The company repeatedly ignored those recommendations from its own researchers,” Blumenthal said. “Facebook, as you put it is having so powerfully maximizes profits and ignores pain.”
He submitted into evidence a letter from 52 state attorneys general about the need to hold Facebook accountable.
Blumenthal also touted legislation he has introduced with Sen. Ed Markey. Called the KIDS act, it would regulate the design of social platform to minimize harm.