As lawmakers mull curbs on social media, Haugen weighing in

WASHINGTON (AP) – Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen on Wednesday pleaded with lawmakers to avert the usual stalemate in Congress as they weigh proposals to curb abuse on social media platforms by protecting the freedom of expression of the Restrict companies from legal liability.

“Facebook wants you to get into a long, drawn-out debate over the details of different legislative approaches. Please don’t fall into this trap, ”Haugen testified at a hearing before a subcommittee on energy and trade in the House. “Time is of the essence. Much is at stake here. You have the unique opportunity to create new rules for our online world. I came forward at great personal risk because I believe we still have time to act. But we have to act now. “

Legislators came up with proposals after Haugen presented a case in October that Facebook’s systems increase hatred and extremism on the Internet and do not protect young users from harmful content.

Her previous revelations have spurred global legislative and regulatory efforts to tackle big tech, and she recently appeared before European lawmakers and officials who set rules for social media companies.

Haugen, a data scientist who worked as a product manager in the civil integrity division of Facebook, backed up her claims with a huge pool of internal corporate documents that she secretly copied and made available to federal securities regulators and Congress.

In her first public appearance in the fall of that year, in which she delivered a sweeping condemnation of the social network giant in front of a Senate trade subcommittee, she shared how she thought Facebook’s platforms could be made safer and offered to Congress Recommendations for action. She rejected the splitting of the technology giant called for by many legislators and instead favored targeted legislative measures.

Most importantly, they include new restrictions on long-term legal protection for statements posted on social media platforms. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called for the removal of some of the protections afforded by a provision in a 25-year-old law – commonly known as Section 230 – that protects internet companies from liability for what users post .

“Let’s work on bipartisan legislation together because we can’t wait,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., Chair of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. The tech giants want nothing more than partisan division and procrastination over legislation, he said.

Facebook and other social media companies use computer algorithms to rate and recommend content. They control what is shown in users’ news feeds. Haugen’s idea is to remove protection in cases where dominant content, controlled by algorithms, prefers massive user engagement over public safety.

“Facebook won’t change until the incentives change,” Haugen told the House panel. “I hope you act because our children deserve better.”

That is the rationale behind the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act, which was introduced by senior Democrats in the House of Representatives about a week after Haugen testified to the Senate panel in October. The bill would hold social media companies accountable by removing their Section 230 protections for tailored recommendations to users who are believed to cause harm. A platform would lose immunity if it “knowingly or recklessly” promotes harmful content.

Rep. Frank Pallone, DN.J., who chairs the entire energy and trade committee, said a proposal by his senior Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is not identical to the Democratic bill but is a good start for possible compromise.

“Big tech shouldn’t be the arbiter of the truth,” Rodgers said, reiterating Conservative claims that social media platforms censor these views. Rodgers ‘proposal would allow conservatives to challenge the platforms’ content choices.

All legislative proposals are about to be finalized by Congress.

Some experts who support tighter regulation of social media say Democrats’ written legislation could have unintended consequences. It does not make it clear enough what specific algorithmic behaviors would lead to loss of liability, they suggest, which makes it difficult to see how it would work in practice and leads to wide disagreement about what it could actually do.

Meta Platforms, the new name of the Facebook parent company, has declined to comment on certain legislative proposals. The company says it has long been campaigning for updated regulations.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has proposed changes that would only provide legal protection to Internet platforms if they can demonstrate that their systems for identifying illegal content are up to snuff. However, this requirement could be more difficult for smaller tech companies and startups to meet, leading critics to accuse it of ultimately benefiting Facebook.

Other social media companies have urged caution in changing the law to Section 230.

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Follow Marcy Gordon at https://twitter.com/mgordonap

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