Frances Haugen, Facebook whistleblower, spoke at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee in Washington, D.C., U.S.A on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images
This one may be familiar: Legislators are furious at tech companies and call for their CEO to testify. They also promise to reign in Big Tech.
This is the scene Tuesday in front of the Senate Commerce subcommittee for consumer protection. Facebookwhistleblower Frances Haugen testifiedAbout the many thousands of pages she carried with her to work when she quit the company in May.
It’s also an old scene, which has been repeated several times in the last few years. This includes the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Since then, legislators have largely failed in passing significant legislation in all of the main categories they targeted: digital privacy, antitrust and Section 230 (Communications Decency Act), which protects tech platforms against liability for the content of their users and moderators.
There are many reasons to doubt that it will be this time. However, there are some reasons that it may be.
The fact that lawmakers seem to have a common opinion about the Facebook business practices is a good sign.
The leaked documents by Haugen, which were first published in The Wall Street Journal, caused outrage among them. the Facebook Files The documents also contained details about Facebook. variable treatment of accounts with celebrity statusThe report that rattled Congress most was the one that used Facebook’s data. own research about how its products affect teens and kids
One of the Facebook researchers’ findings was that 6% of American respondents surveyed reported having suicidal thoughts. Facebook has downplayed how representative the survey was and stated that the vast majority of respondents said that they have experienced positive or neutral benefits from its platform.
Last week’s hearing saw Antigone Davis, Facebook’s Global Head for Safety, repeatedly tell Congress that this research is “not a bombshell.”
It is “a shock in the lives of parents who are losing their children,” he said. Sen. Ted CruzR-Texas.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who chaired the subcommittee said, “I have never seen such unanimity.” “If you closed your eyes, without knowing who was talking, you wouldn’t know whether it was a Republican or Democrat, you wouldn’t know what part of the country they were from, because everywhere — red state, blue state, East and West — every part of the country has the harms that are afflicted by Facebook and Instagram.”
In all the years Congress attempted to regulate tech over the years, the hearings that were most successful have been those in which they had most of the necessary information before them.
The attempts of lawmakers to get real answers from tech CEOs has been a failure. When the March CEO meetings took place, Facebook Google Twitter testifiedIn an attempt to save time and get information from executives, lawmakers asked “yes” or “no” questions to a House panel. As CEOs responded to complex questions with lengthy sentences, the strategy was criticized by lawmakers who were unable to understand tech company operations.
When lawmakers have the most important answers, hearings are more efficient. This was also the case in the hearing before the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust last yearWhen lawmakers faced CEOs from Amazon AppleFacebook, Google and their results from extensive investigations into their business practices.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Marsha BLACKBU, R-Tenn. said that having the documents allows them to get a closer look and allow for more detailed questions. Her comment was about a possible hearing with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook’s effects on youth were the documents that resonated most with lawmakers. This is a population that elected officials want to protect. Those with children often share their experiences with technology and kids.
It is a topic that has deep personal resonance, which contrasts with some abstract antitrust reform goals or Section 230 changes.
Blackburn spoke during the conference, stating that people were beginning to notice the importance of addressing online privacy concerns for both children and users. So because of this there’s a foundation for taking action that we don’t have in the past.
Blumenthal spoke at the press conference, saying that “there’s always reason to be skeptical about Congress acting upon any issue.” But there are instances when the dynamic is powerful enough to make something happen. The power of bipartisan outrage, support, and cooperation may allow us to reach the goal line on this particular issue.
The question is whether lawmakers will agree to the solution. The KIDS ActSens. led the effort to pass the, which will restrict marketing and design practices targeted at children. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), do not have Republican co-sponsors.
Republicans and Democrats both discussed the latest updates to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Acts (COPPA). This included raising the age of its application from 12 years to 15. Markey and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La. introduced a bipartisan billThis bill will do exactly that in May. This bill will make it simpler to prosecute businesses that gather data from children without consent. It would change the standard of information that is available on the platform and prohibit targeted advertising targeting that age group.
A broader privacy bill could help children online. Although lawmakers showed more agreement on earlier points of disagreement during the hearing, they have yet to come together around one bill.
It is possible for lawmakers to agree on one set of solutions but other pressing issues will likely keep tech matters off the front burner, at the very least, in the near future. Congress must still pass infrastructure reforms, raise the debt limit and deal with budget reconciliation.
However, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee for antitrust said last week to CNBC that he believed that some antitrust legislation that is tech-focused could be brought before Christmas. This indicates that some technology legislation may move in the coming months.
Following Haugen’s testimony, Blackburn said to reporters that Congress wants guardrails in tech.
She said, “This will become our number one priority.”
Report by Tom Franck of CNBC.