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Facebook Live Updates: Whistle-Blower Will Tell Washington Facebook Weakens Democracy

Oct. 5, 2021, 8:39 a.m. ET

Oct. 5, 2021, 8:39 a.m. ET

covers technology and regulation

This hearing is about Instagram and children, but lawmakers could ask the Facebook whistleblower about much more. Jan. 6th, genocide in Myanmar, hate groups, and what Mark Zuckerberg knew and when, will all be on the table.

Oct. 5, 2021, 8:12 a.m. ET

Oct. 5, 2021, 8:12 a.m. ET

covers technology and regulation

The whistleblower, in her first live public appearance, will be a show-stopper. But beyond talk, what will be the path forward with legislation? How do you regulate a company at Facebook’s scale without impeding free expression or focusing on the wrong things?

Oct. 5, 2021, 7:30 a.m. ET

Oct. 5, 2021, 7:30 a.m. ET

Credit…Robert Fortunato for CBS News/60MINUTES

Just who is Frances Haugen?

For weeks, the onetime Facebook product manager made waves while behind the scenes. After amassing thousands of pages of Facebook documents while working at the company, she had shared the trove with The Wall Street Journal, lawmakers and regulators, leading to revelations that the social network knew about many of the harms it was causing.

Ms. Haugen only revealed herself on Sunday night. That was when she went on “60 Minutes,” started tweeting, published a personal website, started a GoFundMe and announced a European tour to speak with lawmakers and regulators. The move was timed ahead of a congressional hearing on Tuesday, when Ms. Haugen is set to testify in person on Facebook’s impact on young people.

Details about Ms. Haugen, 37, have since spilled out. A native of Iowa City, Iowa, she studied electrical and computer engineering at Olin College and got an M.B.A. from Harvard. She then worked at various Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Pinterest and Yelp.

In June 2019, she joined Facebook. There, she handled democracy and misinformation issues, as well as working on counterespionage as part of the civic misinformation team, according to her personal website.

She left Facebook in May, but not before exfiltrating thousands of pages of internal research and documents. Those documents have formed the basis of a series of Journal articles and a whistle-blower complaint that she and her lawyers have filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Despite her seemingly adversarial position, Ms. Haugen has said she doesn’t hate Facebook and just wants to improve it.

“We can have social media that brings out the best in humanity,” she said on her website.

While she shared some of the company documents with members of Congress and the offices of at least five attorneys general, Ms. Haugen decided not to provide them to the Federal Trade Commission, which has filed an antitrust suit against Facebook. She has said she does not believe that antitrust enforcement is the way to solve the company’s problems.

“The path forward is about transparency and governance,” she said in a video on her GoFundMe page. “It’s not about breaking up Facebook.”

In prepared remarks for the hearing on Tuesday, which were released ahead of time, Ms. Haugen also likened Facebook to tobacco companies and automakers before the government stepped in with regulations for cigarettes and seatbelt laws.

“Congress can change the rules Facebook plays by and stop the harm it is causing,” she said.

Oct. 5, 2021, 7:03 a.m. ET

Oct. 5, 2021, 7:03 a.m. ET

Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

A Facebook whistle-blower is taking her campaign to Washington.

Frances Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook who leaked internal documents to The Wall Street Journal that have generated numerous revelations about the company, will testify in a Senate hearing on Tuesday morning.

The hearing, which starts at 10 a.m., is part of Ms. Haugen’s tour aimed at bringing more government oversight to the social media giant. She appeared on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night and is expected to meet with European regulators this month. Ms. Haugen has warned that Facebook does not have the incentive to change its core goal of increasing engagement — even with harmful content — without intervention from regulators.

Here is what to expect at the hearing:

Ms. Haugen will focus on the company’s push to obtain younger and younger users. Some of the research she leaked to The Journal showed that Instagram harmed teenagers by feeding on anxiety and, in some cases, suicidal ideations. The research revealed that one in three teens reported feeling worse about their body image because of Instagram.

“I am here today because I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, weaken our democracy and much more,” Ms. Haugen said in written testimony. “The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people. Congressional action is needed.”

Lawmakers will embrace Ms. Haugen’s testimony. Concerns about the safety of children online have united Republicans and Democrats. They have grown increasingly angry at Facebook for failing to protect young users and for allowing misinformation to spread.

Lawmakers will drill into what knowledge Facebook’s executives had on Instagram’s toxic effect on young users. They will probably ask if Mark Zuckerberg and other leaders were aware of but ignored the research on Instagram’s effect on children and other issues like the spread of hate groups ahead of the Capitol riots.

Lawmakers will probably also ask Ms. Haugen how the company’s systems work to promote toxic content. They will also focus on how tools like beauty filters, comments and Facebook’s “like” button can hook young users to Instagram.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut and the chair of the panel on consumer protection, product safety and data security will highlight an experiment his office ran, in which it created an account for a fake 13-year-old user who expressed interest in weight loss. The account was nudged into a rabbit hole of content promoting eating disorders and other self-harms, he said in an interview.

“I want to talk about her perceptions about what she read in those documents and the use of algorithms to increase profits but also to exacerbate the harms,” Mr. Blumenthal said.