Facebook Has Another Bad PR Day When Whistleblower Testifies At Senate Hearing
Facebook had another bad PR day Tuesday when former employee Frances Haugen appeared before a Senate Commerce subcommittee to discuss issues related to protecting children online. She said, “I’m here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.”
Haugen’s in-person testimony came a day after the social media platform went down for several hours, her headline-making interview Sunday on CBS’s 60 Minutes and last week’s bi-partisan Congressional criticism when global safety executive Antigone Davis appeared virtually before the panel.
Haugen told the subcommittee this morning that Facebook puts their “astronomical profits before people.”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg came in for his share of criticism.
Sen. Edward Marley (D-Mass.) said, “Here’s my message for Mark Zuckerberg: Your time of invading our privacy, promoting toxic content, and preying on children and teens is over. Congress will be taking action. You can work with us or not work with us. But we will not allow your company to harm our children and our families and our democracy any longer… We will act.”
Facebook Goes On Offense Again
As it did before last week’s hearing, Facebook went on the offensive prior to Haugen’s testimony today. The Washington Post reported that, Facebook sent out an early morning blog post defending itself, saying that “protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.” It also asserted, “It is not accurate that leaked internal research demonstrates Instagram is ‘toxic’ for teen girls.”
The Post noted that, “The talking points repeat some of the social media company’s previous lines of defense.”
Facebook did not wait for Huagen to complete her remarks before responding to her allegations. They quickly started to post Tweets with their side of the story. Ironically, Sen. Marsha Blackbyrn (R-Tenn.) read one of the Tweets during the hearing, which led to her inviting Facebook to testify under oath at a future hearing.
Calling On Congress To Change The Rules
Haugen said Facebook has, “a hundred percent control over their algorithms, and [it] should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth and virality and reactiveness over public safety.”
She ended her opening statement to the subcommittee by calling on Congress to enact regulations that “change the rules” for Facebook. “These problems are solvable. A safer, free speech-respecting, more enjoyable social media is possible,” she said. “Facebook can change, but is clearly not going to do so on its own. My fear is that without action, divisive and extremist behaviors we are seeing now are just the beginning.”
Haugen added: “Congress can change the rules that Facebook plays by and stop the many harms it is causing.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told Haugen, “I think the time has come for action, and I think you are the catalyst for that action.” The senator observed that, “We have not done anything to update our privacy laws in this country, our federal privacy laws, nothing, zilch, in any major way. Why? Because there are lobbyists around every single corner of this building that have been hired by the tech industry.”
Advice For Business Leaders
- Don’t wait to respond to allegations or charges about your company’s activities, policies or procedures.
- Use social media platforms and other communication tools to help ensure your side of the story about a crisis reaches stakeholders and other audiences as soon as possible.
- Be careful about what you say about your critics and how you say it. Anything you say in the court of public opinion could be used against you by your critics.
- Don’t assume that because your company did not have a crisis yesterday that it will not have one today—or assume that because it had a crisis today that it will not have another one tomorrow.