Children could also be crimson line in Fb regulation battle: Specialists – Americas

Joshua Melvin (AFP)

Washington, USA ●
Thursday, October 7, 2021

Social media, Facebook, children, whistleblowers, regulation
For free

Facebook’s previous major scandals barely affected its global dominance, but experts said Wednesday that the tech giant may have hit a red line this time around: evidence that it knew children using its apps are at risk, pledged hurt will.

A day after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before US lawmakers, the long-standing barriers to regulation – stalled laws, the protection of free speech, and the rapid advances in technology – were still in place.

But an insider with the company’s own documents showing that Facebook knew its tools could make eating disorders or suicidal thoughts of young people worse may have been a turning point.

“The issue of children being negatively affected by their use of Instagram or other social media apps is something Republicans and Democrats can agree on,” said Paul Barrett, assistant director of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights New York University.

He said the level of bipartisan courtesy at Tuesday’s hearing was something he hadn’t seen in years and showed some of the impact of Facebook’s suppression due to Haugen’s leaks.

She exposed countless internal investigations to authorities and the Wall Street Journal in a revelation that fueled one of the social network’s worst crises yet.

The company has recovered from other scandals like that of Cambridge Analytica, a UK consultancy that used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to target political ads.

In that case, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg went to Washington to apologize, and the company agreed to a $ 5 billion settlement with U.S. regulators.

American lawmakers failed to pass any laws against the company, despite outrage over the hijacking of the personal information of millions of users ahead of the 2016 US presidential election.

However, this new revelation about Facebook’s behavior has apparently hit a sore nerve.

“There are certain political issues that move people and child protection is a key issue,” said Allie Funk, senior research analyst on technology and democracy at Freedom House, a US think tank.

“Too big to ignore”

She pointed out that political struggles and the thorny issue of freedom of expression on Facebook are still major obstacles to significant reform, but so are information.

“How are we supposed to develop intelligent political solutions if we have no insight into what is going on (within Facebook)?” Asked Funk.

Facebook is known to be closed off, with whistleblower Haugen describing the internal belief that “when information is shared with the public, it is simply misunderstood”.

But the arrival of Haugen, who worked as a product manager at Facebook, could help unlock the company’s secrets further.

“There are people who work for Facebook who wish they had the opportunity and the courage to come forward as you do,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said during Tuesday’s hearing, encouraging others to come forward and welcoming Haugens Revelations.

Any resulting legislation would need to be tightly focused, Barrett said, noting that exceeding issues like child protection or privacy on social media would lead to partisan arguments.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a noted Republican, “would speak again about the nonexistent conspiracy to censor conservatives online,” added Barrett.

It is also clear that Facebook would not submit without a fight if the legislators in the hyperpolarized US Congress succeeded in moving forward with one of the numerous existing proposals.

Zuckerberg said in a post on his account that Haugen’s claim that his company prioritizes profit over safety is “just not true.”

But of all the allegations, he said he was “particularly focused on those through Facebook and children,” adding that he was “proud” of the work the company is doing to help young people in need.

For her part, Nora Benavidez, a Facebook accountability expert, said she saw a catalytic moment in the hearing that went beyond the impact it had on children.

“I think there are now tens of thousands of pages of documents that Congress clearly has access to,” she said. “The sentence is ‘Too big to ignore.'”

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