Facebook whistleblower testifies in Congress

By Clare Duffy, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Samantha Murphy Kelly, Veronica Rocha, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 6:13 p.m. ET, October 5, 2021
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10:14 a.m. ET, October 5, 2021

NOW: Senate hearing with Facebook whistleblower kicks off

From CNN's Samantha Murphy Kelly and Clare Duffy

The Facebook whistleblower who released tens of thousands of pages of internal research and documents indicating the company was aware of various problems caused by its apps, including Instagram's potential "toxic" effect on teen girls, is set to soon testify at a Senate hearing titled "Protecting Kids Online."

Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old former Facebook product manager who worked on civic integrity issues at the company, will face questions from a Senate Commerce subcommittee about what Facebook-owned Instagram knew about its effects on young users, among other issues.

In her prepared testimony obtained by CNN Monday ahead of her appearance, Haugen said, "I believe what I did was right and necessary for the common good — but I know Facebook has infinite resources, which it could use to destroy me."

Haugen added: "I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook."

Haugen's identity as the Facebook whistleblower was revealed on "60 Minutes" Sunday night. She previously shared a series of documents with regulators and the Wall Street Journal, which published a multi-part investigation showing that Facebook was aware of problems with its apps, including the negative effects of misinformation and the harm caused by Instagram, especially to young girls.

Read more about Haugen and her career here.

9:45 a.m. ET, October 5, 2021

Monday's outage on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp came as difficulties mount for the company

From CNN's Clare Duffy and Sean Lyngaas

Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went down yesterday for six hours.

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all suffered outages midday Monday, according to public statements from the three Facebook services.

Outage tracking site Down Detector logged tens of thousands of reports for each of the services. Facebook's own site would not load at all; Instagram and WhatsApp were accessible, but could not load new content or send messages.

The outage came amid mounting difficulties for the company.

At a Senate hearing on Sept. 30, Sen. Richard Blumenthal pressed Facebook global head of safety Antigone Davis on Facebook-owned Instagram and the platform's potential negative impact on children, particularly young girls.

On Sunday, "60 Minutes" aired a segment in which Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen claimed the company is aware of how its platforms are used to spread hate, violence and misinformation, and that Facebook has tried to hide that evidence. Facebook has pushed back on those claims.

The interview followed weeks of reporting about and criticism of Facebook after Haugen released thousands of pages of internal documents to regulators and the Wall Street Journal. Haugen is set to testify before the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security on Tuesday.

In her prepared testimony obtained by CNN on Monday ahead of her appearance before the subcommittee, Haugen said, "I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook."

Facebook declined to comment Monday.

Read more here.

9:40 a.m. ET, October 5, 2021

Sen. Blumenthal previews hearing with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen

From CNN's Morgan Rimmer

Sen. Richard Blumenthal in August 2021.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal in August 2021. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters on Monday evening that the hearing with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen as the star witness would show a “very, very powerful bipartisan consensus that we're going to support this whistleblower and any whistleblower against retaliation by Facebook."

He added that there is “strong bipartisan support for reforms, meaningful changes that will better protect kids.”

Asked if he expected further revelations and whistleblowers to follow Haugen’s example, Blumenthal replied, “I hope this whistleblower coming forward with her courageous credible consistent testimony will encourage other whistleblowers.”

He then added, “I know there are other whistleblowers out there.”

9:33 a.m. ET, October 5, 2021

Facebook whistleblower says she believes company could "destroy" her for speaking out

From CNN's Samantha Murphy Kelly

Frances Haugen with Scott Pelley during her "60 Minutes" interview on October 3, 2021.
Frances Haugen with Scott Pelley during her "60 Minutes" interview on October 3, 2021.

Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who released tens of thousands of pages of internal research and documents, said Facebook could "destroy" her for speaking out but she believed that "as long as Facebook is operating in the dark, it is accountable to no one."

In her prepared testimony obtained by CNN Monday ahead of her appearance before a Senate subcommittee today, Haugen said, "I believe what I did was right and necessary for the common good — but I know Facebook has infinite resources, which it could use to destroy me."

"I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook," Haugen added.

The 37-year-old former Facebook product manager, who worked on civic integrity issues at the company, revealed her identity during a "60 Minutes" segment that aired Sunday night. In that segment, she said the documents show that Facebook knows its platforms are used to spread hate, violence and misinformation, and that the company has tried to hide that evidence.

"When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms it caused, the government took action," she said in the prepared remarks. "When we figured out cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action. And today, the government is taking action against companies that hid evidence on opioids. I implore you to do the same here," she said.

9:25 a.m. ET, October 5, 2021

Instagram promoted pages glorifying eating disorders to teen accounts. Here's what we learned.

From CNN's Donie O'Sullivan, Clare Duffy and Sarah Jorgensen

"I have to be thin," "Eternally starved," "I want to be perfect." These are the names of accounts Instagram's algorithms promoted to an account registered as belonging to a 13-year-old girl who expressed interest in weight loss and dieting.

Proof that Instagram is not only failing to crack down on accounts promoting extreme dieting and eating disorders, but actively promotes those accounts, comes as Instagram and its parent company Facebook are facing intense scrutiny over the impact they have on young people's mental health.

Instagram acknowledged to CNN this weekend that those accounts broke its rules against the promotion of extreme dieting, and that they shouldn't have been allowed on the platform.

The extreme dieting accounts were promoted to an Instagram account set up by Sen. Richard Blumenthal's staff. The Connecticut senator's team registered an account as a 13-year-old girl and proceeded to follow some dieting and pro-eating disorder accounts (the latter of which are supposed to be banned by Instagram). Soon, Instagram's algorithm began almost exclusively recommending the young teenage account should follow more and more extreme dieting accounts, the senator told CNN.

Blumenthal's office shared with CNN a list of accounts Instagram's algorithm had recommended. After CNN sent a sample from this list of five accounts to Instagram for comment, the company removed them, saying all of them broke its policies against encouraging eating disorders.

"We do not allow content that promotes or encourages eating disorders and we removed the accounts shared with us for breaking these rules," a spokesperson for Facebook, Instagram's parent company told CNN. "We use technology and reports from our community to find and remove this content as quickly as we can, and we're always working to improve. We'll continue to follow expert advice from academics and mental health organizations, like the National Eating Disorder Association, to strike the difficult balance between allowing people to share their mental health experiences while protecting them from potentially harmful content."

Speaking to CNN Monday, Blumenthal said: "This experience shows very graphically how [Facebook's] claims to protect children or take down accounts that may be dangerous to them are absolute hogwash."

Read the full story here.

9:21 a.m. ET, October 5, 2021

The Senate grilled a Facebook executive last week over the company's impact on kids

From CNN's Samantha Murphy Kelly

Antigone Davis, Facebook's global head of safety, testifies virtually during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security hearing on children's online safety and mental health on Capitol Hill on September 30, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Antigone Davis, Facebook's global head of safety, testifies virtually during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security hearing on children's online safety and mental health on Capitol Hill on September 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. Patrick Semansky/Pool/Getty Images

Today's hearing with a Facebook whistleblower is the second of two hearings that the Senate Commerce Committee is holding on how Facebook approaches its younger users.

Last Thursday, Facebook's global head of safety, Antigone Davis, was grilled by senators about the impact its apps have on younger users, after an explosive report indicated the company was aware that Facebook-owned Instagram could have a "toxic" effect on teen girls.

"We now know that Facebook routinely puts profits ahead of kids' online safety. We know it chooses the growth of its products over the well-being of our children," Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in opening remarks at the hearing. "And we now know it is indefensibly delinquent in acting to protect them."

"The question that haunts me," Blumenthal added, "is how can we, or parents, or anyone, trust Facebook?"

In a sign of the bipartisan pressure on this issue, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn echoed Blumenthal in her opening remarks directed at Facebook. "We do not trust you with influencing our children," she said.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier last month that researchers at Facebook have been conducting studies for the past three years into how Instagram, which it owns, affects its millions of young users. The research shows the platform can damage mental health and body image, especially among teenaged girls.

Blumenthal said his office created an Instagram account identifying as a 13-year-old girl. It followed some easily discoverable accounts associated with extreme dieting and eating disorders. Within a day, he said, the Instagram recommendations were "exclusively filled" with other accounts that promoted self harm and eating disorders. (Davis said those accounts would be in violation of Instagram's policies that crack down on content promoting self-harm.)

Following the Journal report, Instagram said it was looking at new ways to discourage users from focusing on their physical appearance. The company also said that while Instagram can be a place where people have "negative experiences," the app also gives a voice to marginalized people and helps friends and family stay connected.

"What's been lost in this report is that in fact with this research, we've found that more teen girls actually find Instagram helpful — teen girls who are suffering from these issues find Instagram helpful than not," Davis said Thursday. "Now that doesn't mean that the ones that aren't, aren't important to us. In fact, that's why we do this research."

Davis, who identified herself as a mother and former teacher, also pushed back on the idea that the report was a "bombshell" and did not commit to releasing a full research report, noting potential "privacy considerations." She said Facebook is "looking for ways to release more research."

Read more about last week's hearing here.

9:15 a.m. ET, October 5, 2021

Key things to know about Frances Haugen, the revealed Facebook whistleblower

From CNN's Brian Stelter

Frances Haugen was a product manager on Facebook's civic misinformation team.

"During her time at Facebook," her bio says, "Frances became increasingly alarmed by the choices the company makes prioritizing their own profits over public safety — putting people's lives at risk. As a last resort and at great personal risk, Frances made the courageous act to blow the whistle."

Haugen now identifies herself as "an advocate for public oversight of social media." She rolled out a new website, Twitter profile and online identity in the minutes before her blockbuster "60 Minutes" interview aired on CBS.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed that Haugen was the key source for last month's "Facebook Files" project. Reporter Jeff Horwitz said he had been calling her "Sean" for "the past ten months." Now, he said, Haugen "will be speaking for herself from here on out."

Horwitz also published a profile of Haugen at the same time the "60 Minutes" story premiered. "If people just hate Facebook more because of what I've done, then I've failed," she told the Journal. She said she's trying to save Facebook, not destroy it.

"I believe in truth and reconciliation — we need to admit reality," Haugen said. "The first step of that is documentation."

How Facebook responded to the "60 Minutes" interview: Facebook spokesperson Lena Pietsch said this on Sunday night: "Every day our teams have to balance protecting the ability of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place. We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true."

A version of this post first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free here.

9:08 a.m. ET, October 5, 2021

Facebook recently paused plans to create an Instagram for kids

From CNN's Samantha Murphy Kelly

Instagram is pressing pause on plans to develop a version of its service for kids under 13 after facing pressure from lawmakers to back down on the effort and new questions about the impact the photo-sharing service has on teen girls.

"While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we've decided to pause this project," Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, wrote in a blog post published last Monday. "This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today."

The move came days before the US Senate was set to hold a hearing entitled "Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms" to discuss the pressure today's youth face on social media. That hearing occurred after a Wall Street Journal investigation around what Facebook knows about how Instagram affects teen users, including their mental health.

Today, a Facebook whistleblower who released tens of thousands of pages of internal research and documents is set to testify in the Senate in a hearing on "protecting kids online."

More on the decision: Mosseri acknowledged that the Journal's reporting "has raised a lot of questions for people." In a statement earlier this month, an Instagram official noted that while Instagram can be a place where people have "negative experiences," the app also gives a voice to marginalized people and helps friends and family stay connected.

"This is a watershed moment for the growing tech accountability movement and a great day for anyone who believes that children's wellbeing should come before Big Tech's profits," Josh Golin, executive director at Fairplay, a child advocacy group formerly known as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said in a statement Monday.

9:13 a.m. ET, October 5, 2021

The Facebook whistleblower will testify soon before a Senate committee. Here are key things to know.

From CNN's Clare Duffy

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, spoke with Scott Pelley during a "60 Minutes" interview that aired on October 3, 2021.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, spoke with Scott Pelley during a "60 Minutes" interview that aired on October 3, 2021.

The Facebook whistleblower who released tens of thousands of pages of internal research and documents indicating the company was aware of various problems caused by its apps, including Instagram's potential "toxic" effect on teen girls, is set to testify at a Senate hearing today.

Frances Haugen, a 37-year-old former Facebook product manager who worked on civic integrity issues at the company, will face questions from a Senate Commerce subcommittee about what Facebook-owned Instagram knew about its effects on young users, among other issues.

In her prepared testimony obtained by CNN Monday ahead of her appearance, Haugen said, "I believe what I did was right and necessary for the common good — but I know Facebook has infinite resources, which it could use to destroy me."

Haugen added: "I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook."

Haugen's identity as the Facebook whistleblower was revealed on "60 Minutes" Sunday night. She previously shared a series of documents with regulators and the Wall Street Journal, which published a multi-part investigation showing that Facebook was aware of problems with its apps, including the negative effects of misinformation and the harm caused by Instagram, especially to young girls.

Some background: About a month ago, Haugen filed at least eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that the company is hiding research about its shortcomings from investors and the public. She also shared the documents with the Wall Street Journal, which published a multi-part investigation showing that Facebook was aware of problems with its apps, including the negative effects of misinformation and the harm caused, especially to young girls, by Instagram.

Facebook has aggressively pushed back against the reports, calling many of the claims "misleading" and arguing that its apps do more good than harm.

Read more about Haugen's testimony here.

Watch the interview: