Ottawa urged to crack down on Facebook after explosive whistleblower testifies before US Senate
The surprising testimony delivered this week by a former Facebook employee should prompt Ottawa to curb the social media giant with stricter and more comprehensive regulations, according to tech experts and people fighting online hate.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist, told US senators on Tuesday that Facebook is knowingly operating products that “harm children, fuel division and weaken our democracy.”
She implored the U.S. government to take action, saying tighter oversight has become the only viable solution as the company has chosen profit over the safety of its users.
The re-elected Liberal government has said it plans to crack down on hate speech on social media in future legislation – but Haugen’s testimony has some observers saying the government needs to completely rethink how it might regulate companies like Facebook .
“The discussion needs to be much broader in terms of regulation,” said Ramona Pringle, a professor at Ryerson University who studies social media.
“If we don’t see new legislation, the concern is that things are getting very dark.”
The testimony “reinforces” what some already knew
Haugen, who joined Facebook in 2019 and left it in May, said the company has repeatedly failed to follow up on internal research showing its products – especially Instagram – could harm teens by making their problems worse. body image.
Haugen also alleged that Facebook intentionally used hateful content to maintain user engagement.
“This new information only strengthens research that has been around for a long time,” said Fareed Khan, founder of the Canadians United Against Hate advocacy group.
Khan has pushed the government to tackle hate speech on social media through strict regulation. He said he would like this legislation to include fines and the possibility of criminal charges against tech executives.
“I don’t think they have any interest in doing this,” he said of the government’s response to date.
Haugen’s account of Facebook’s troubles held true for former Liberal MP Catherine McKenna, who said companies like Twitter and Facebook had shown no interest in protecting victims of hateful online content.
Make me & many women in politics, climate, media and beyond hold Facebook and Twitter responsible for much of the hate, vitriol and threats – online and offline – that we have. been faced? Absolutely we do. They stayed there and did next to nothing.
And yes – we’ll call it.
“They just stood idly by and did next to nothing,” McKenna wrote on Twitter.
McKenna was often the target of misogynistic attacks during his four years as Minister of Environment and Climate Change for Canada.
A Facebook Canada executive said earlier this year that the company would welcome government regulation on the type of content that can be posted.
In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Facebook Canada repeated the message while dismissing Haugen’s claim that Facebook knowingly compromises the safety of its users.
“We have absolutely no business incentives, no moral incentives, no company-wide incentives to do anything other than try to give as many people as possible a positive experience on Facebook,” indicates the press release.
Ottawa will soon pass a new law
The Liberal government has promised to introduce new legislation within the first 100 days to tackle hate speech online by holding companies accountable for the content that appears on their platforms.
In an email to CBC News, the office of Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault indicated no plans to revamp its approach to Facebook and other social media giants in the wake of Haugen’s testimony and called for more new government measures.
A spokesperson for Guilbeault highlighted other bills related to social media, including a plan to better promote and fund Canadian content and rules that would require companies to pay Canadian media when their content appears on platforms. social media.
The ministry did not make Guilbeault available for an interview.
Pringle said Ottawa should consider other options that would more directly address concerns about hate speech, the division and the promotion of extremism online.
She agreed with Haugen’s comparison of Facebook and 20th century tobacco companies, companies that hid damaging information about the effects of their products.
These revelations ultimately led to government action, such as banning tobacco advertising and placing warning labels on tobacco products.
Pringle said Facebook seems unlikely to fix these issues on its own.
“There has to be independent oversight. There has to be government involvement at this point,” she said.