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Facebook whistleblower says Congress needs to act to stop a growing crisis

Credit: Facebook

A data scientist who formerly worked for Facebook testified before Congress on Tuesday, telling lawmakers that the social media platform is harmful to children and fuels political polarization.

Frances Haugen, who revealed herself as the whistleblower behind the leak of a selection of internal Facebook documents, told a Senate panel on Tuesday that lawmakers need to intervene to solve the "crisis" situation created by the social media juggernaut.

"Facebook's products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy," Haugen told lawmakers. "The company's leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won't make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people."

At Facebook, Haugen served as the company's product manager for civic misinformation. During her time at the Menlo Park firm, Haugen said she repeatedly saw that Facebook "encountered conflicts between its own profits and our safety."

"Facebook consistently resolved those conflicts in favor of its own profits. The result has been a system that amplifies division, extremism and polarization — and undermining societies around the world," she added.

Haugen also noted that she put herself at risk by coming forward. Although she said she believes she did the right thing, she said she's aware of the fact that Facebook could use its resources and reach to "destroy" her.

"I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook," Haugen said in her written remarks. "The company's leadership keeps vital information from the public, the U.S. government, its shareholders, and governments around the world."

At other points during her testimony, Haugen also said that Facebook was under-utilizing its resources to detect underaged users on the platform. Additionally, she said that Facebook's counter-espionage team — which worked to track Chinese espionage of the country's Uyghur Muslim minority — is consistently understaffed. She called that a national security concern.

Haugen also put the blame squarely on Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. She said "the buck stops with Mark," and added that there is "no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself."

She added that Zuckerberg was well-aware of some of the internal research showing the detrimental impacts of Facebook.