British policymakers are hearing testimony on Monday from the former Facebook manager who became a whistle-blower and has shared scores of internal documents with policymakers, regulators and journalists to help build a case for stiffer oversight of the social media giant.
Frances Haugen, the former employee, is speaking before a Parliament committee as part of her tightly choreographed campaign to reveal internal Facebook research and discussions that paint a portrait of a company vividly aware of its harmful effects on society, contrary to public statements by company leaders.
Here are updates from Ms. Haugen’s testimony:
In the opening moments of her testimony, Ms. Haugen likened Facebook to an “oil spill” and said government officials must act quickly to avoid more damage in society. “I came forward because now is the time to act,” she said.
Ms. Haugen said more transparency is needed from Facebook, which she said presented a false picture of its efforts to delete hate speech and other extreme content. The company says artificial intelligence software catches more than 90 percent of hate speech, but Ms. Haugen said the number was less than 5 percent. “They are very good at dancing with data,” she said.
Even for Facebook, a company that has lurched between controversies since Mark Zuckerberg started it as a Harvard undergrad in 2004, Ms. Haugen’s disclosures have created a backlash and public relations crisis that stands apart. It has put the company on the defensive, helping attract political support for new regulation in the United States and Europe and leading to some calls for Mr. Zuckerberg to step aside as Facebook’s chief executive.
The testimony in Britain on Monday is part of the next phase of Ms. Haugen’s campaign against Facebook, a company that she says has put “profit over people.” After anonymously leaking internal Facebook research to The Wall Street Journal that resulted in a series of articles that began in September, she revealed her identify early this month for an episode on “60 Minutes” and testimony before a Senate committee. The documents, which include slide decks, internal discussion threads, charts, memos and presentations, have also been shared with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Since then, she has shared the Facebook materials with other news organizations, including The New York Times, resulting in additional stories about Facebook’s harmful effects, including its role in spreading election misinformation in the U.S. and stoking divisions in countries such as India.
Ms. Haugen is now making a tour across Europe, home to some of the world’s most aggressive tech regulation and where governments are expected to act faster than the United States to pass new laws targeting Facebook and other tech giants. After testifying before British lawmakers, Ms. Haugen is scheduled to meet in the coming weeks with officials in Brussels, Paris and Berlin. She is also scheduled to speak at an industry conference in Lisbon.
“For all the problems Frances Haugen is trying to solve, Europe is the place to be,” said Mathias Vermeulen, the public policy director at AWO, a law firm and policy firm that is among the groups working with Ms. Haugen in the United States and Europe.
British policymakers are hearing Ms. Haugen’s testimony as they draft a law to create a new internet regulator that could impose billions of dollars worth of fines if more isn’t done to stop the spread of hate speech, misinformation, racist abuse and harmful content targeting children.
The policy ideas gained additional momentum after the murder this month of David Amess, a member of Parliament, leading to calls for the law to force social media companies to crack down on extremism.
Later this week, representatives from Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok are scheduled to testify before the same British committee as will Ms. Haugen.
In Brussels, Ms. Haugen is scheduled to meet on Nov. 8 with European Union officials drafting laws that would force Facebook and other large internet platforms to disclose more about how their recommendation algorithms choose to promote certain material over others, and impose tougher antitrust rules to prevent the companies from using their dominant positions to box out smaller rivals. European policymakers are also debating a ban on targeted advertising based on a person’s data profile, which would pose a grave threat to Facebook’s multibillion-dollar advertising business.
Despite growing political support for new regulation, many questions remain about how such policies would work in practice.
Regulating Facebook is particularly complex because many of its biggest problems center on content posted by users all over the world, raising difficult questions about the regulation of speech and free expression. In Britain, the new online safety law has been criticized by some civil society groups as being overly restrictive and a threat to free speech online.
Another challenge is how to enforce the new rules, particularly at a time when many government agencies are under pressure to tighten spending.
For weeks, Facebook has been shaken by revelations that have ignited a firestorm of criticism from lawmakers, regulators and the public.
Reports by The Wall Street Journal from research documents provided by a whistle-blower put Facebook under a microscope. Those reports showed how Facebook knew Instagram was worsening body image issues among teenagers, among other issues.
The whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, went public during an interview on “60 Minutes” in early October. On Oct. 5, Ms. Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee for more than three hours. She said Facebook had purposely hidden disturbing research about how teenagers felt worse about themselves after using its products and how it was willing to use hateful content on its site to keep users coming back. In her testimony, she encouraged lawmakers to demand more documents and internal research, suggesting the documents she had provided were just the tip of the iceberg.
After Ms. Haugen testified, executives publicly questioned her credibility and called her accusations untrue. But internally, they tried to position their stances to hang on to the good will of more than 63,000 employees and assuage their concerns.
Reporters have since covered more internal documents from the company, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp in addition to the core Facebook social network. Documents about Instagram, for instance, reveal a company that is struggling with retaining, engaging and attracting young users.
Other documents raise questions about Facebook’s role in election misinformation and the pro-Trump attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Company documents show the degree to which Facebook knew of extremist movements and groups on its site that were trying to polarize American voters before the election. Employees believed Facebook could have done more, according to the documents.
In India, Facebook’s biggest market, the problems are bigger, too. Internal documents show a struggle with misinformation, hate speech and celebrations of violence. Dozens of studies and memos written by Facebook employees provide stark evidence of one of the most serious criticisms levied by human rights activists and politicians against the world-spanning company: It moves into a country without fully understanding its potential impact on local culture and politics, and fails to deploy the resources to act on issues once they occur.
The latest revelations, published on Monday morning, show internal research that undercuts the heart of social networking — “likes” and sharing — that Facebook revolutionized. According to the documents, researchers determined over and over that people misused key features or that those features amplified toxic content, among other effects. In an August 2019 internal memo, several researchers said it was Facebook’s “core product mechanics” — meaning the basics of how the product functioned — that had let misinformation and hate speech flourish on the site.
Hertz, the car rental agency, said on Monday that it had placed an order for 100,000 Teslas, a sign of growing momentum in the shift to electric vehicles. The order, which is expected to be delivered by the end of next year, would give Hertz one of the world’s largest fleets of rental electric vehicles.
Hertz, which emerged from bankruptcy over the summer, said it was teaming up with football quarterback Tom Brady to promote its E.V. offerings.
“Electric vehicles are now mainstream, and we’ve only just begun to see rising global demand and interest,” Mark Fields, Hertz’s interim chief executive, said in a news release. “The new Hertz is going to lead the way as a mobility company, starting with the largest E.V. rental fleet in North America and a commitment to grow our E.V. fleet and provide the best rental and recharging experience for leisure and business customers around the world.”
The company did not disclose the value of the deal. Bloomberg, which reported the news before the announcement, said the order would generate about $4.2 billion of revenue for Tesla, suggesting Hertz was paying close to face value for the vehicles. Car rental firms typically demand deep discounts for large vehicle orders.
Hertz customers will be able to rent a Tesla Model 3 in some major markets in the United States and Europe starting in early November. The company also said it planned to install thousands of chargers at its locations.
After the Tesla order, electric vehicles will make up more than 20 percent of Hertz’s global vehicle fleet, the company said.
PayPal, the digital payments giant, said late on Sunday that it was not interested in buying the social media network Pinterest, ending efforts to draft a potential $45 billion deal that would have been one of the biggest consumer internet takeovers in a decade.
In a brief statement, PayPal said it was “not pursuing an acquisition of Pinterest at this time.”
A transaction would have been among the biggest ever by PayPal since being spun off from eBay in 2015 and would have bolstered its presence in e-commerce. Pinterest is best known for allowing its 454 million users to pin images and links to their online pinboards and letting them buy goods directly through so-called “buyable pins.” Pinterest largely makes money through advertising instead of online shopping.
PayPal had offered $70 for each share of Pinterest, according to people with knowledge of the discussions, a 25 percent premium to where the digital pinboard’s stock had been trading before news of the talks emerged last week.
Investor reaction to a potential deal was mixed. Shares in Pinterest jumped on the news, while those in PayPal tumbled sharply.
Pinterest has performed well over the last year, with its revenue rising nearly 50 percent in 2020 because of a pandemic-fueled jump in online shopping. But some analysts questioned the logic of a deal and suggested the talks underscored PayPal’s difficulties with tougher competition in its core digital payments business.
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