“I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profit and our safety. Facebook consistently resolved these conflicts in favor of its own profits. The result has been more division, more harm, more lies, more threats, and more combat. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people.”
— Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifying before the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, Oct. 5, 2021.
Some have been shocked by Ms. Haugen’s disturbing revelations about Facebook. I, on the other hand, am shocked that anyone would be shocked to learn that a trillion-dollar corporation would put the craven pursuit of profit above protecting people.
As Ms. Haugen’s testimony and the thousands of pages of internal documents she has released make abundantly clear, Facebook adheres to the same business ethos that led Ford to sell exploding Pintos, Boeing to allow airlines to load passengers onto 737 Max 8 jets that were flying death tubes and Big Tobacco to blithely market cancer-causing nicotine delivery devices to kids.
Secrecy and deception are major components of that deadly ethos. As in the cases of Ford, Boeing, Big Tobacco and other companies that intentionally sold deadly products to an unsuspecting public, Mark Zuckerberg both knew that his social media platforms were incredibly dangerous and went to great pains to conceal that fact, Haugen alleged. "The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the U.S. government, and from governments around the world,” she told the sub-committee.
Facebook’s reaction to Ms. Haugen’s testimony demonstrates that the company shares another attribute with infamous corporate miscreants: a willingness to batter truthtellers. Like Big Tobacco — which brutally attacked whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand — Facebook, and in particular, Mark Zuckerberg, has launched an all-out assault against Ms. Haugen.
Unfortunately for Zuckerberg, Haugen — like Wigand — has documents that validate her claims and prove that Zuckerberg and his minions have been lying for years when they state they are doing all they can to lessen the negative impact of their product.
Ms. Haugen’s troubling disclosures inevitably lead to this question: What can be done to address the problem? To me, the answer is obvious: Subject Facebook to the one thing that has improved product safety across a broad range of industries: the civil justice system. Today, Facebook cannot be held accountable for third-party content, i.e. user posts, that appear on its platforms because the company is shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Reducing the all-encompassing scope of that shield so that Facebook can be sued when it knowingly disseminates dangerous information would address many of the problems Ms. Haugen told the Senate Sub-Committee. “They have a hundred percent control over their algorithms, and Facebook should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth and virality and reactiveness over public safety,” she said.
I could not agree more or be more grateful for Ms. Haugen’s courage. Her disclosures combined with the proven ability of the civil justice system to both hold wrongdoers accountable will make the internet and the world better, safer places for us all.
— Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.