ICT

Facebook and Instagram whistleblower to testify before UK Parliament – CNET

Facebook logo on a phone screen

Facebook’s come under increasing fire over its handling of harmful posts.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who’s criticized the company’s opaque operations and accused it of putting profits ahead of user safety, is set to appear before a UK Parliament committee on Oct. 25. Separately, she is expected to meet with the company’s Oversight Board, which reviews Facebook’s moderation decisions.

Haugen will testify to the Draft Online Safety Bill joint committee, the UK Parliament said on its website, marking the first time the former product manager will publicly speak to a government outside the US. Last week, Haugen appeared before a US Senate subcommittee and alleged its products “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.” She urged lawmakers to provide provide more active oversight of the social network

“Congress can change the rules that Facebook plays by and stop the many harms it is now causing,” Haugen told US senators. Facebook’s PR team and CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticized Haugen’s testimony, saying it presented a “false picture” of the social network.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Haugen’s upcoming testimony.

Haugen’s planned appearance before UK lawmakers marks her latest in a string of efforts to draw attention to what she calls Facebook’s “moral bankruptcy.” Haugen, who worked on election interference and other intelligence issues, says Facebook underinvested in teams meant to counter disinformation and harassment. She also says Facebook executives didn’t adequately address concerns raised by data collected by its own research teams that indicated some content posted on its services, including the Instagram photo-sharing network, is hurting millions of people.

Haugen copied thousands of documents and communications from Facebook before she left the company in May after working there for nearly two years. The Wall Street Journal used some of these documents for a series of stories it published about how Facebook knows about the dangers of its products but downplays these effects publicly. 

Lawmakers across the political spectrum have so far responded with renewed interest in holding Facebook to account. Some have also likened Haugen’s disclosures about Facebook to revelations from the tobacco industry’s decades-long coverup of the damaging health effects of its products, which was exposed in the 1990s.

The UK Parliament is responding similarly, calling for an “independent regulator with the power to audit and inspect the big tech companies” including Facebook. Lawmakers there are working on legislation called the Online Safety Bill, which would regulate social media. The bill is due to be put before Parliament for approval next year.

“There needs to be greater transparency on the decisions companies like Facebook take when they trade off user safety for user engagement,” Damian Collins, a member of Parliament, said in a statement.

Haugen is also expected to meet with Facebook’s Oversight Board, which is tasked with reviewing some of the social network’s content moderation decisions. 

“Board members appreciate the chance to discuss Ms. Haugen’s experiences and gather information that can help push for greater transparency and accountability from Facebook through our case decisions and recommendations,” the oversight board said in a blog post. 

The board is currently looking into a program called Cross Check that, according to The Journal, shielded public figures from the company’s rules against harassment and incitement to violence. Facebook said the program was meant to give certain users a “second layer of review” to ensure its policies are applied correctly.

“Facebook has lied to the board repeatedly, and I am looking forward to sharing the truth with them,” Haugen said in a tweet on Monday.