After a whistleblower went public with allegations against Facebook, the social media behemoth launched a counteroffensive to “muddy the waters” in Congress and the “divide lawmakers” on the issue, according to a Wall Street Journal report published Wednesday.
The report provides details into the company’s response to former staffer Frances Haugen, who claimed in October that the platform puts a premium on profit instead of user safety.
Included in materials that Haugen produced was a claim that officials at Facebook, recently renamed Meta, know that Instagram has become “toxic” for many of that platform’s younger users.
Following Haugen’s public claims, Facebook activated its team in Washington, D.C., some of whom told GOP lawmakers that the whistleblower “was trying to help Democrats,” as lobbyists for the platform told Dem staffers that Republicans “were focused on the company’s decision to ban expressions of support for Kyle Rittenhouse,” the WSJ reported.
The objective, according to the paper, was to “muddy the waters, divide lawmakers along partisan lines and forestall a cross-party alliance” against the platform in Congress.
Facebook was scrutinized by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers following Haugen’s testimony, which was followed by a number of hearing in Congress since. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has alleged that the documents Haugen produced indicate that Facebook “knew” that it “promotes extremism and hurts our communities.”
And, according to Politico, a congressional hearing earlier this month seemed to indicate that Haugen’s “credibility with Republican lawmakers may be starting to wear thin.”
The WSJ also noted that Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO, “has told employees not to apologize” as the company falls under renewed scrutiny. In addition, he reportedly said that Meta thought about hiring a “high-ranking outsider” to take “pressure” off Zuckerberg and the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.
A company spokesperson told the WSJ, “When our work is being mischaracterized, we’re not going to apologize. We’re going to defend our record.”
As for the political divide, during this month’s hearing, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said the parties “have very different views of the problem” with the online platforms, Politico reported.
“Lawmakers also appeared far apart on the hearing’s main topic: how to rewrite Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a decades-old law that provides broad liability protections over user-posted content online,” the outlet said.
Both parties are keen to revise online platforms’ protections under Section 230 but are not in alignment over how to go about it: Democrats seek to regulate the companies and their algorithms, while Republicans are aiming for preventing conservative voices from being censored.
Also, GOP lawmakers brought in their own witness for the hearing, another former Facebook employee, Kara Frederick, now a tech policy research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“Big Tech is an enemy of the people,” she testified. “It is time all independently-minded citizens recognize this.”
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