Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen to testify in UK

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LONDON – Former Facebook data scientist turned whistleblower Frances Haugen plans to answer questions from UK lawmakers working on legislation to curb the power of social media companies on Monday.

Haugen is expected to appear before a parliamentary committee to review the UK government’s bill to crack down on harmful online content, and his comments could help lawmakers tighten the new rules. She testifies on the same day that Facebook is set to release its latest results and that the Associated Press and other news organizations have started publishing articles based on thousands of pages of internal company documents that she got.

This will be her second appearance before lawmakers after testifying before the U.S. Senate earlier this month about the danger she says the company poses, whether it is harming children, inciting to political violence and fueling disinformation. Haugen cited internal research documents that she secretly copied before quitting her job in Facebook’s civic integrity unit.

The documents, which Haugen provided to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, allege that Facebook has prioritized profits over security and withheld its own research from investors and the public. Some file-based stories have already been published exposing internal turmoil after Facebook was taken aback by the Jan.6 U.S. Capitol riot and how it procrastinated over limiting divisive content in India, and d ‘more are to come.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took issue with Haugen’s portrayal of the company as a company that puts profit above the well-being of its users or pushes content that divides, saying a false image is painted . But he agrees with the need for up-to-date internet regulations, saying lawmakers are best placed to assess tradeoffs.

Haugen told U.S. lawmakers she believes a federal regulator is needed to oversee digital giants like Facebook, something UK and EU officials are already working on.

The UK government’s online security bill calls for a regulatory body to be put in place to hold companies accountable for removing harmful or illegal content from their platforms, such as terrorist material or images of sexual abuse of children.

“This is a pretty important moment,” said Damian Collins, the lawmaker who chairs the committee, ahead of the hearing. “It’s a moment, much like Cambridge Analytica, but maybe bigger in that I think it provides a real window into the souls of these companies.”

Collins was referring to the 2018 debacle involving data mining company Cambridge Analytica, which gathered details of as many as 87 million Facebook users without their permission.

Representatives from Facebook and other social media companies plan to address the committee on Thursday.

Ahead of the hearing, Haugen met the father of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old girl who committed suicide in 2017 after viewing disturbing content on Instagram owned by Facebook. In a conversation filmed by the BBC, Ian Russell told Haugen that after Molly’s death, her family found notes she wrote about her Instagram addiction.

Haugen is also due to meet EU officials in Brussels next month, where the bloc’s executive board is updating its digital regulations to better protect internet users by holding online businesses more accountable for illegal or dangerous content.

Under UK rules, which are expected to come into effect next year, the Silicon Valley giants face a penalty of up to 10% of their global revenues for any breach. The EU is proposing a similar sanction.

The UK committee hopes to learn more from Haugen about the data collected by tech companies. Collins said the internal files Haugen turned over to U.S. authorities are important because they show the type of information held by Facebook – and what regulators should ask for when investigating those companies.

The committee has already heard from another Facebook whistleblower, Sophie Zhang, who sounded the alarm after finding evidence of political manipulation online in countries like Honduras and Azerbaijan before her dismissal.

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