Information Minister questions countries’ lack of concern when BBC office in India was searched
Those who spread confusion and misinformation do not like that Bangladesh is prospering, according to Information and Broadcasting Minister Hasan Mahmud. He made the remark during an exchange of views with journalists on current issues at his residence in Chattogram city on Friday (March 31, 2023) afternoon. Hasan, also Joint General Secretary of Awami League, said that as the country continues to progress, the prosperity and wealth of every citizen also increases. He alleged some newspapers intentionally publish negative news: “Many individuals do not like the economic prosperity of Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina. Therefore, some newspapers intentionally publish negative reports, while identified foreign individuals spread misinformation against Bangladesh." Read More: BBC film on India's PM Modi, 2002 riots draws government ire Despite these efforts, Bangladesh remains indomitable, he said. The information minister also criticized 12 countries, including the USA, that issued a statement on the arrest of Prothom Alo journalist Shamsuzzaman Shams, stating that it was tantamount to “interference in the country's internal affairs.” He highlighted the contrast between the response to this incident in Bangladesh and the “lack of concern” expressed by countries when the BBC office in India was searched. He reminded diplomats of the Vienna Convention that sets the rules and limits on their conduct while stationed abroad and asserted that the government would continue to ensure freedom of media. Read More: Indian officials search BBC offices for second straight day Mahmud also criticized the opposition party for going to foreign diplomats and requesting “intervention” instead of engaging with the people of the country. He stated that it was "anti-national and involved a conspiracy against the country" to meddle in internal affairs. Hasan Mahmud referred to a recent report by Bloomberg, a renowned US media organization, that praised the economic prosperity achieved under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the ability to maintain economic stability even during the COVID-19 pandemic and global recession. According to the report, there is a possibility of Sheikh Hasina winning the next election and serving a fourth term as prime minister. Mahmud also shared statistics demonstrating Bangladesh's economic growth and stability under the current government. Read More: Indian officials probe BBC for 3rd day, alleging tax dodge He stated that the percentage of people living below the poverty line stands at 16% despite the COVID-19 pandemic and global recession. Additionally, Bangladesh's per capita income has surpassed that of India during the pandemic, and the country has risen from the 60th to the 35th largest economy in the world in terms of GDP, he added. The Acting President of Chattogram Metropolitan Awami League, Mahatab Uddin Chowdhury, former Mayor AJM Nasir Uddin, North District President MA Salam, South District Acting President Motaherul Islam, and other party leaders were present at the event. read More: Tax officials search BBC's Delhi offices weeks after Modi documentary
UNESCO chief urges tougher regulation of social media
The United Nations’ educational, scientific and cultural agency chief on Wednesday called for a global dialogue to find ways to regulate social media companies and limit their role in the spreading of misinformation around the world. Audrey Azoulay, the director general of UNESCO, addressed a gathering of lawmakers, journalists and civil societies from around the world to discuss ways to regulate social media platforms such as Twitter and others to help make the internet a safer, fact-based space. The two-day conference in Paris aims to formulate guidelines that would help regulators, governments and businesses manage content that undermines democracy and human rights, while supporting freedom of expression and promoting access to accurate and reliable information. The global dialogue should provide the legal tools and principles of accountability and responsibility for social media companies to contribute to the “public good,” Azoulay said in an interview with The Associated Press on the sidelines of the conference. She added: “It would limit the risks that we see today, that we live today, disinformation (and) conspiracy theories spreading faster than the truth.” The European Union last year passed landmark legislation that will compel big tech companies like Google and Facebook parent Meta to police their platforms more strictly to protect European users from hate speech, disinformation and harmful content. The Digital Services Act is one of the EU’s three significant laws targeting the tech industry. In the United States, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission have filed major antitrust actions against Google and Facebook, although Congress remains politically divided on efforts to address online disinformation, competition, privacy and more. Filipino journalist and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa told participants in the Paris conference that putting laws into place that would prevent social media companies from “proliferating misinformation on their platforms” is long overdue. Ressa is a longtime critic of social media platforms that she said have put “democracy at risk” and distracted societies from solving problems such climate change and the rise of authoritarianism around the world. By “insidiously manipulating people at the scale that’s happening now, ... (they have) changed our values and it has rippled to cascading failure,” Ressa told the AP in an interview on Wednesday. “If you don’t have a set of shared facts, how do we deal with climate change?” Ressa said. “If everything is debatable, if trust is destroyed (there’s no) meaningful exchange.” She added: “Just a reminder, democracy is not just about talking. It’s about listening. It’s about finding compromises that are impossible in the world of technology today.”
Attendees tight-lipped on inter-ministerial meeting to tackle propaganda, misinformation
The government has decided to deal with "anti-government propaganda" at home and abroad in a "coordinated way" and fight against misinformation by presenting correct information. Representatives from the relevant ministries and departments will sit regularly to find effective ways to present correct information about Bangladesh against fabrication and misinformation. The decision was taken at a meeting held at State guesthouse Padma on Sunday with Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen in the chair. Law Minister Anisul Huq, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan and representatives from law enforcement agencies were present. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will coordinate the work. Asked about the meeting, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said it was a closed-door meeting and there is nothing to share with the media. Read more: Misinformation, fake news a grave concern, says Md Shahriar Alam
Misinformation, fake news a grave concern, says Md Shahriar Alam
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam on Tuesday said the government is committed to ensure people’s right to know and respect freedom of speech. However, the State Minister said that the increasing trend of misinformation and fake news has become a grave concern day by day. “We all have to work in a responsible way. If we all work together, we shall be able to fight the mounting trend of misinformation and fake news,” he said while speaking as the chief guest at a discussion at Jatiya Press Club. The Women Journalists Network Bangladesh (WJNB), in partnership with the High Commission of Canada in Bangladesh, organised the discussion on the “Importance of Digital Literacy to combat Hate Speech and Misinformation” under the project “Digital Literacy and Digital Safety”. Read more: BNP ployed to press for right to peaceful assembly through violent means: Foreign Ministry tells diplomatic missions
Top EU official warns Musk: Twitter needs to protect users from hate speech, misinformation
A top European Union official warned Elon Musk on Wednesday that Twitter needs to beef up measures to protect users from hate speech, misinformation and other harmful content to avoid violating new rules that threaten tech giants with big fines or even a ban in the 27-nation bloc. Thierry Breton, the EU's commissioner for digital policy, told the billionaire Tesla CEO that the social media platform will have to significantly increase efforts to comply with the new rules, known as the Digital Services Act, set to take effect next year. The two held a video call to discuss Twitter's preparedness for the law, which will require tech companies to better police their platforms for material that, for instance, promotes terrorism, child sexual abuse, hate speech and commercial scams. It’s part of a new digital rulebook that has made Europe the global leader in the push to rein in the power of social media companies, potentially setting up a clash with Musk’s vision for a more unfettered Twitter. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also said Wednesday that an investigation into Musk's $44 billion purchase was not off the table. Breton said he was pleased to hear that Musk considers the EU rules “a sensible approach to implement on a worldwide basis.” “But let’s also be clear that there is still huge work ahead,” Musk said, according to a readout of the call released by Breton’s office. “Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly reinforce content moderation and protect freedom of speech, tackle disinformation with resolve, and limit targeted advertising.” After Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” bought Twitter a month ago, groups that monitor the platform for racist, antisemitic and other toxic speech, such the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, say it’s been on the rise on the world’s de facto digital public square. Musk has signaled an interest in rolling back many of Twitter’s previous rules meant to combat misinformation, most recently by abandoning enforcement of its COVID-19 misinformation policy. He already reinstated some high-profile accounts that had violated Twitter’s content rules and had promised a “general amnesty” restoring most suspended accounts starting this week. Twitter didn’t respond to an email request for comment. In a separate blog post Wednesday, the company said “human safety” is its top priority and that its trust and safety team “continues its diligent work to keep the platform safe from hateful conduct, abusive behavior, and any violation of Twitter’s rules." Musk, however, has laid off half the company’s 7,500-person workforce, along with an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation. Many others have resigned, including the company’s head of trust and safety. Read more: Musk says granting 'amnesty' to suspended Twitter accounts In the call Wednesday, Musk agreed to let the EU's executive Commission carry out a “stress test" at Twitter’s headquarters early next year to help the platform comply with the new rules ahead of schedule, the readout said. That will also help the company prepare for an “extensive independent audit" as required by the new law, which is aimed at protecting internet users from illegal content and reducing the spread of harmful but legal material. Violations could result in huge fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual global revenue or even a ban on operating in the European Union's single market. Along with European regulators, Musk risks running afoul of Apple and Google, which power most of the world’s smartphones. Both have stringent policies against misinformation, hate speech and other misconduct, previously enforced to boot apps like the social media platform Parler from their devices. Apps must also meet certain data security, privacy and performance standards. Musk tweeted without providing evidence this week that Apple “threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why.” Apple hasn’t commented but Musk backtracked on his claim Wednesday, saying he met with Apple CEO Tim Cook who “was clear that Apple never considered” removing Twitter. Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen walked back her statements about whether Musk’s purchase of Twitter warrants government review. “I misspoke,” she said at The New York Times’ DealBook Summit on Wednesday, referring to a CBS interview this month where she said there was “no basis” to review the Twitter purchase. The Treasury secretary oversees the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency committee that investigates the national security risks from foreign investments in American firms. Read more: Elon Musk says Twitter deal ‘temporarily on hold’ “If there are such risks, it would be appropriate for the Treasury to have a look,” Yellen told The New York Times. She declined to confirm whether CFIUS is currently investigating Musk’s Twitter purchase. Billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is, through his investment company, Twitter’s biggest shareholder after Musk.
'Horrifying' conspiracy theories swirl around Texas shooting
By now it's as predictable as the calls for thoughts and prayers: A mass shooting leaves many dead, and wild conspiracy theories and misinformation about the carnage soon follow. It happened after Sandy Hook, after Parkland, after the Orlando nightclub shooting and after the deadly rampage earlier this month at a Buffalo grocery store. Within hours of Tuesday's school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, another rash began as internet users spread baseless claims about the man named as the gunman and his possible motives. Also read: Onlookers urged police to charge into Texas school Unfounded claims that the gunman was an immigrant living in the U.S. illegally, or transgender, quickly emerged on Twitter, Reddit and other social media platforms. They were accompanied by familiar conspiracy theories suggesting the entire shooting was somehow staged. The claims reflect broader problems with racism and intolerance toward transgender people, and are an effort to blame the shooting on minority groups who already endure higher rates of online harassment and hate crimes, according to disinformation expert Jaime Longoria. “It's a tactic that serves two purposes: It avoids real conversations about the issue (of gun violence), and it gives people who don't want to face reality a patsy, it gives them someone to blame,” said Longoria, director of research at the Disinfo Defense League, a non-profit that works to fight racist misinformation. In the hours after the shooting, posts falsely claiming the gunman was living in the country illegally went viral, with some users adding embellishments, including that he was “on the run from Border Patrol.” “He was an illegal alien wanted for murder from El Salvador,” read one tweet liked and retweeted hundreds of times. “This is blood on Biden’s hands and should have never happened.” The man who authorities say carried out the shooting, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, is a U.S. citizen, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a news conference on Tuesday. Other social media users seized on images of innocent internet users to falsely identify them as the gunman and claim he was transgender. On the online message board 4Chan, users liberally shared the photos and discussed a plan to label the gunman as transgender, without any evidence to back it up. One post on Twitter, which has since been deleted, featured a photo of a trans woman holding a green bottle to her mouth, looking into the camera, headphones hanging from one ear. “BREAKING NEWS: THE IDENTITY OF THE SHOOTER HAS BEEN REVEALED,” claimed the user, saying the shooter was a “FEMBOY” with a channel on YouTube. None of that was true. The photo actually depicted a 22-year-old trans woman named Sabrina who lives in New York City. Sabrina, who requested her last name not be published due to privacy concerns, confirmed to The Associated Press that the photo was hers and also said she was not affiliated with the purported YouTube account. Sabrina said she received harassing responses on social media, particularly messages claiming that she was the shooter. She responded to a number of posts spreading the image with the misidentification, asking for the posts to be deleted. “This whole ordeal is just horrifying,” Sabrina told the AP. Another photo that circulated widely showed a transgender woman with a Coca-Cola sweatshirt and a black skirt. A second photo showed the same woman wearing a black NASA shirt with a red skirt. These photos didn’t show the gunman either — they were of a Reddit user named Sam, who confirmed her identity to the AP on Wednesday. The AP is not using Sam’s last name to protect her privacy. “It’s not me, I don’t even live in Texas,” Sam wrote in a Reddit post. Authorities have released no information on the gunman's sexuality or gender identification. Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar fit both unfounded claims about Ramos in a single now-deleted tweet that also misspelled his name. “It’s a transsexual leftist illegal alien named Salvatore Ramos,” Gosar tweeted Tuesday night. Gosar’s office did not return a message seeking comment. In some cases, misinformation about mass shootings or other events are spread by well-intentioned social media users trying to be helpful. In other cases, it can be the work of grifters looking to start fake fundraisers or draw attention to their website or organization. Then there are the trolls who seemingly do it for fun. Fringe online communities, including on 4chan, often use mass shootings and other tragedies as opportunities to sow chaos, troll the public and push harmful narratives, according to Ben Decker, founder and CEO of the digital investigations consultancy Memetica. Also read:School massacre continues Texas’ grim run of mass shootings “It is very intentional and deliberate for them in celebrating these types of incidents to also influence what the mainstream conversations actually are,” Decker said. “There’s a nihilistic desire to prove oneself in these types of communities by successfully trolling the public. So if you are able to spearhead a campaign that leads to an outcome like this, you’re gaining increased sort of in-group credibility.” For the communities bearing the brunt of such vicious online attacks, though, the false blame stirs fears of further discrimination and violence. Something as seemingly innocuous as a transphobic comment on social media can spark an act of violence against a transgender person, said Jaden Janak, a PhD candidate at the University of Texas and a junior fellow at the Center for Applied Transgender Studies. “These children and adults who were murdered yesterday were just living their lives," Janak said Wednesday. “They didn’t know that yesterday was going to be their last day. And similarly, as trans people, that’s a fear that we have all the time.”
Home Minister dismisses US HR report as misinformation
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Wednesday said that the US State Department on the alleged abuse of power by Bangladesh security forces contains misinformation. “Firstly, this allegation is probably from 2021, not 2022. The number of disappearances and murders in 2021 that were mentioned in the report is not same as per our record,” he told reporters at the Secretariat. “We always have an executive magistrate inquiring if anyone is killed by our security forces in a gunfight, even if the security forces open fire in self-defense,” he said. The matter is closed only if the fact behind the incident is proved. And if the executive magistrate thinks that the incident occurred due to injustice or carelessness, it is sent to the judiciary, said the minister. READ: Home Minister warns against violence during Left Alliance's hartal Asked if the security forces are being used for political purposes, he said, “It was when the BNP was in power. If they talk about it, I don't know.” Ever since the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power, if any kind of torture by the security forces is reported, they will face the law, he said. “That is what I have repeatedly said.” The minister also said, “We have seen many of those disappearances and murders, many of them may have gone into hiding. Maybe he has faced losses in his business and went somewhere by himself.” “As you may have noticed a few days ago, a man said after two and a half years that he went missing on purpose due to family unrest.” The security forces have found many, he added. “I can still say loudly that the report that has come out contains discrepancies in the information.” Responding to a question on spreading of rumours, the minister said Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is keeping in touch with Facebook in this regard. “We also discussed this with them yesterday. They said that a Facebook team from Singapore came to visit us here.” “We take action against those who spread rumours through Facebook.” ”If anyone gets upset and wants justice against those who spread rumours, we must take action against them,” Kamal added. He also said that people are now realising that these rumours are being spread deliberately. Because of this, they don’t believe any data shared through Facebook. Lastly, regarding the security of Pohela Boishakh, he said they have recommended that the law enforcement end programmes on a limited scale by 2 pm considering the Covid situation.
Dhaka trashes US HR report as “lie, wrong and misinformation”
The government on Wednesday criticised the US report on Bangladesh’s human rights practices that contains some “misinformation” collected primarily from the “anti-government propaganda” machines. “We’re thoroughly studying the report and will share in detail with the press on Sunday,” State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam told reporters as his initial comment was sought on the report. He said the government will do whatever is necessary to help the US government to come out from the “wrong perception.” Also read:US seeks to reassert global leadership role in struggle for human dignity, liberty Shahriar pointed out a number of areas of the report in which the government what he says was blamed without any justification. “It’s wrong. It's a lie. It’s far from reality.” He referred to the section of same-sex sexual conduct and said it is something against the religion Islam. “You show me a Muslim-majority country which approves LGBTQI+.” The state minister said the government will never compromise on LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) no matter what pressure a country or institution tries to put on Bangladesh. “This (promoting LGBTQI+) will be something like standing against the people of the country and religion,” he said. He also talked about the issue of BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia which was mentioned in the US report. Reiterating the government position he said Khaleda is not a political prisoner or detainee. “We explained the issue several times to foreign envoys and the international community. Purely on humanitarian grounds, she was allowed to stay at home being released from jail,” he said. He said the government has been blamed as in August last year for at least 11 Rohingya’s death after their boat capsized while trying to leave Bhasan Char. “Is it our fault? We have been blamed for that.” Shahriar said no country is more serious than Bangladesh when it comes to humanitarian issues and everybody knows how serious Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is. The US report mentioned that there were reports of “widespread impunity” for security force abuses and corruption and the government took “few measures” to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption and abuse and killing by security forces. When sought his comment on it, the state minister said, “Not at all.” He said the government shared everything it is doing due to current extensive engagement following the sanctions imposed on elite force Rab. “In every country, law enforcement agencies go through some challenges. People are being killed in the Rohingya camps due to internal feud. When our forces go there taking risks and if they need to open fire and if someone is killed, blame will be imposed on us. We need to come out from such things (blames),” said Shahriar. He said they expect Bangladesh’s friends to understand the ground realities, challenges, Bangladesh’s constitutions, religions, culture and language and hoped that the international community will not try to come up with demands like LGBTQI+ showing enough respect to those issues. Progress Begins with Facts The State Department on Tuesday night released the 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, an annual report required by U.S. law. US President Joe Biden has put human rights at the centre of his foreign policy. The United States said they are committed to a world in which human rights are protected, their defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable. “Working together, we must commit ourselves to promoting respect for human rights. We must speak honestly about the challenges we face. Progress on human rights begins with the facts,” said US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas. Also read:Withdrawal of Sanctions: Bangladesh to appoint lawyers in US Guided by the United Nations’ Universal Declarations on Human Rights and subsequent human rights treaties, the country reports cover observance of and respect for internationally recognized human rights and worker rights. The country reports do not draw legal conclusions, rate countries, or declare whether they failed to meet standards. “President Biden is committed to a foreign policy that unites our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership, and one that is centered on the defense of democracy and the protection of human rights,” said the US Embassy in Dhaka. In this 50th anniversary year of the U.S.-Bangladesh bilateral relationship, promoting democracy, good governance, and human rights will remain paramount, it said.
Europe bolsters pioneering tech rules with help from Haugen
European lawmakers have pioneered efforts to rein in big technology companies and are working to strengthen those rules, putting them ahead of the United States and other parts of world that have been slower to regulate Facebook and other social media giants facing increasing blowback over misinformation and other harmful content that can proliferate on their platforms. While Europe shares Western democratic values with the U.S., none of the big tech companies — Facebook, Twitter, Google — that dominate online life are based on the continent, which some say allowed European officials to make a more clear-eyed assessment of the risks posed by tech companies largely headquartered in Silicon Valley or elsewhere in the U.S. But that’s only part of the explanation, said Jan Penfrat, senior policy adviser at digital rights group EDRi. Read:Could Facebook sue whistleblower Frances Haugen? The question, Penfrat said, should also be: “Why is the U.S. so much lagging behind? And that may be because of the immense pressure from the homegrown companies” arguing to officials in Washington that stricter rules would hobble them as they compete with, for example, Chinese rivals. Drawing up a new package of digital rules for the 27-nation European Union is getting a boost from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who answered questions Monday in Brussels from a European Parliament committee. It's the latest sign of interest in her revelations that Facebook prioritized profits over safety after the former data scientist testified last month to the U.S. Senate and released internal documents. If the EU rules are done right, “you can create a game-changer for the world, you can force platforms to price in societal risk to their business operations so the decisions about what products to build and how to build them is not purely based on profit maximization," Haugen told lawmakers. “And you can show the world how transparency, oversight and enforcement should work.” Since Haugen left Facebook, the company has renamed itself Meta as it focuses its business on a virtual reality world called the metaverse. “I’m shocked they picked this name,” she said. In the book that inspired the term, “the metaverse is a dystopian thing, that people’s lives are so unpleasant that they need to hide in the system for half of their day.” Haugen has been on a European tour, meeting lawmakers and regulators in the EU and United Kingdom who are seeking her input as they work on stricter rules for online companies amid concerns that social media can do everything from magnify depression in teens to incite political violence. A wider global movement to crack down on digital giants is taking cues from Europe and gaining momentum in the U.S. and Australia. Europe has been a trailblazer in applying more scrutiny for big tech companies, most famously by slapping Google with multibillion-dollar fines in three antitrust cases. Now, the European Union is working on a sweeping update of its digital rulebook, including requiring companies to be more transparent with users on how algorithms make recommendations for what shows up on their feeds and forcing them to swiftly take down illegal content such as hate speech. The rules are aimed at preventing bad behavior, rather than punishing past actions, as the EU has largely done so far. France and Germany also are bringing in legislation requiring social media platforms to take down illegal content quicker, though these rules would be superseded by the EU ones, which are expected to take effect no earlier than 2023. Meanwhile, the U.S. has only recently started cracking down on big tech companies, with regulators fining Facebook and YouTube over allegations of privacy violations and the government suing over their huge share of the market in the last couple of years. American lawmakers have proposed measures to protect kids online and get at the algorithms used to determine what shows up on feeds, but they all face a long road to passing. While Haugen’s testimony and the documents she has provided have shed light on how Facebook’s systems work and spurred efforts in the U.S., European lawmakers may not be that surprised by what she has to say. Read:Ex-Facebook manager criticizes company, urges more oversight “The fact that Facebook is disseminating polarizing content more than other kinds of content is something that people like me have been saying for years,” said Alexandra Geese, a European Union lawmaker with the Green party. “But we didn’t have any evidence to prove it.” European lawmakers have been interested in digging in to algorithms, as they work on requiring platforms to be more transparent with users on how artificial intelligence makes recommendations on what content people see. “It’s rather about looking under the hood and regulating the kind of mechanisms that a company, a platform established to disseminate content or to direct people down rabbit holes into extremist groups,” Geese said. What Haugen is doing is “shifting the focus, and I think this is something that many other people before didn’t see.” In the U.K., which left the European Union last year, the government also is working on raft of digital regulations, including an online safety bill that calls for a regulator to ensure tech companies comply with rules requiring them to remove dangerous or harmful content or face big financial penalties. For the European Union, there’s still a lot of wrangling over the final details of the rules, two packages known as the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, which the EU Commission hopes to get approved next year. Free speech campaigners and digital rights activists worry that EU rules requiring platforms to swiftly remove harmful content will lead to overzealous deletion of material that isn't illegal. In a bid to balance free speech requirements, users will be given the chance to complain about what content is removed. In London, there's been a similar debate over how to define harmful but illegal content. Both the EU and U.K. rules call for hefty fines worth up to 10% of a company's annual global turnover, which for the biggest tech companies could amount to billions of dollars in revenue.
Ex-Facebook manager criticizes company, urges more oversight
While accusing the giant social network of pursuing profits over safety, a former Facebook data scientist told Congress Tuesday she believes stricter government oversight could alleviate the dangers the company poses, from harming children to inciting political violence to fueling misinformation. Frances Haugen, testifying to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, presented a wide-ranging condemnation of Facebook. She accused the company of failing to make changes to Instagram after internal research showed apparent harm to some teens and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation. Haugen’s accusations were buttressed by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit. But she also offered thoughtful ideas about how Facebook’s social media platforms could be made safer. Haugen laid responsibility for the company’s profits-over-safety strategy right at the top, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but she also expressed empathy for Facebook’s dilemma. Haugen, who says she joined the company in 2019 because “Facebook has the potential to bring out the best in us,” said she didn’t leak internal documents to a newspaper and then come before Congress in order to destroy the company or call for its breakup, as many consumer advocates and lawmakers of both parties have called for. Haugen is a 37-year-old data expert from Iowa with a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in business from Harvard. Prior to being recruited by Facebook, she worked for 15 years at tech companies including Google, Pinterest and Yelp. Read: Outage highlights how vital Facebook has become worldwide “Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.” “Congressional action is needed,” she said. “They won’t solve this crisis without your help.” In a note to Facebook employees Tuesday, Zuckerberg disputed Haugen’s portrayal of the company as one that puts profit over the well-being of its users, or that pushes divisive content. “At the most basic level, I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted,” Zuckerberg wrote. He did, however, appear to agree with Haugen on the need for updated internet regulations, saying that would relieve private companies from having to make decisions on social issues on their own. “We’re committed to doing the best work we can, but at some level the right body to assess tradeoffs between social equities is our democratically elected Congress,” Zuckerberg wrote. Democrats and Republicans have shown a rare unity around the revelations of Facebook’s handling of potential risks to teens from Instagram, and bipartisan bills have proliferated to address social media and data-privacy problems. But getting legislation through Congress is a heavy slog. The Federal Trade Commission has taken a stricter stance toward Facebook and other tech giants in recent years. “Whenever you have Republicans and Democrats on the same page, you’re probably more likely to see something,” said Gautam Hans, a technology law and free speech expert at Vanderbilt University Haugen suggested, for example, that the minimum age for Facebook’s popular Instagram photo-sharing platform could be increased from the current 13 to 16 or 18. She also acknowledged the limitations of possible remedies. Facebook, like other social media companies, uses algorithms to rank and recommend content to users’ news feeds. When the ranking is based on engagement — likes, shares and comments — as it is now with Facebook, users can be vulnerable to manipulation and misinformation. Haugen would prefer the ranking to be chronological. But, she testified, “People will choose the more addictive option even if it is leading their daughters to eating disorders.” Haugen said a 2018 change to the content flow contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together. Read: Whistleblower: Facebook chose profit over public safety Despite the enmity that the new algorithms were feeding, she said Facebook found that they helped keep people coming back — a pattern that helped the social media giant sell more of the digital ads that generate the vast majority of its revenue. Haugen said she believed Facebook didn’t set out to build a destructive platform. “I have a huge amount of empathy for Facebook,” she said. “These are really hard questions, and I think they feel a little trapped and isolated.” But “in the end, the buck stops with Mark,” Haugen said, referring to Zuckerberg, who controls more than 50% of Facebook’s voting shares. “There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.” Haugen said she believed that Zuckerberg was familiar with some of the internal research showing concerns for potential negative impacts of Instagram. The subcommittee is examining Facebook’s use of information its own researchers compiled about Instagram. Those findings could indicate potential harm for some of its young users, especially girls, although Facebook publicly downplayed possible negative impacts. For some of the teens devoted to Facebook’s popular photo-sharing platform, the peer pressure generated by the visually focused Instagram led to mental health and body-image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, the research leaked by Haugen showed. One internal study cited 13.5% of teen girls saying Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17% of teen girls saying it makes eating disorders worse. She also has filed complaints with federal authorities alleging that Facebook’s own research shows that it amplifies hate, misinformation and political unrest, but that the company hides what it knows. After recent reports in The Wall Street Journal based on documents she leaked to the newspaper raised a public outcry, Haugen revealed her identity in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night. As the public relations debacle over the Instagram research grew last week, Facebook put on hold its work on a kids’ version of Instagram, which the company says is meant mainly for tweens aged 10 to 12. Read: Ex-Facebook manager alleges social network fed Capitol riot Haugen said that Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and incitement to violence after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election, alleging that doing so contributed to the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. After the November election, Facebook dissolved the civic integrity unit where Haugen had been working. That was the moment, she said, when she realized that “I don’t trust that they’re willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous.” Haugen says she told Facebook executives when they recruited her that she wanted to work in an area of the company that fights misinformation, because she had lost a friend to online conspiracy theories. Facebook maintains that Haugen’s allegations are misleading and insists there is no evidence to support the premise that it is the primary cause of social polarization. “Today, a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with (top) executives – and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question. We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about,” the company said in a statement.