Senate Democrat calls on Facebook to preserve documents related to whistleblower testimony

Senate Democrat calls on Facebook to preserve documents related to whistleblower testimony
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Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate Democrat calls on Facebook to preserve documents related to whistleblower testimony Biden says he has directed DOJ to focus on violence from unruly airline passengers Looking to the past to secure America's clean energy future MORE (D-Wash.) is calling on Facebook to preserve documents related to the congressional testimonies from a company whistleblower and the tech giant’s head of global safety, as Congress looks for ways to conduct oversight of the platform amid new damning allegations.

Cantwell penned a letter to Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergEx-Facebook data scientist to testify before British lawmakers A defense for Facebook and global free speech Senate Democrat calls on Facebook to preserve documents related to whistleblower testimony MORE on Tuesday requesting that the company “preserve and retain” documents, data and other information stored electronically that relates to the testimonies whistleblower Frances Haugen delivered on Oct. 5, and Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis on Sept. 30.

Specifically, Cantwell requested that Facebook preserve its internal research that was the subject of Haugen’s testimony and the documents that illustrate the company’s evaluation and use of the research, its ranking or composition systems including content recommendation apparatus, and experiments or recommendations that were meant to alter those systems.

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Additionally, the letter calls for the preservation of information relating to the use of and internal decisions regarding the existence of Facebook in areas where there is ethnic violence, the impact the platform has on children and teenagers and the targeted efforts the company has taken to market the platform to children, teenagers and parents.

The requests from Cantwell — the chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation — comes after Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, delivered damning testimony last week in which she argued that the tech giant makes decisions that put profits over people.

She also claimed that the platform inflicts harm on children and refuses to monitor offensive content properly, among other allegations.

Zuckerberg released a lengthy statement after the hearing, which said recent coverage of the tech giant "doesn't reflect the company we know."

"We care deeply about issues like safety, well-being and mental health. It's difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives," he added.

The hearing came after Haugen leaked shocking internal documents to The Wall Street Journal last month, which accused Facebook of downplaying the negative effects of Instagram, allowing opponents of the vaccine to spread misinformation, and failing to provide an adequate response when concerns were raised regarding human traffickers using the platform.

Facebook, however, contended that the Journal's report "contained deliberate mischaracterizations of what we are trying to do, and conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook's leadership and employees."

Davis’s testimony also made headlines, though she mostly evaded lawmakers’ questions.

Cantwell, in her letter to Zuckberg, said the two testimonies raise “significant concerns about whether Facebook has misled the public, Federal regulators, and this Committee.”

She said her request for documents and data to be preserved comes after Davis “testified that Facebook wants to be more transparent and is considering how it can allow external researchers to have more access to Facebook’s data.”

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The senator specifically cited Haugen’s claims that Facebook silences employees who ask the “wrong” questions by deleting data and dismissing them. She said that account is “deeply troubling and, if true, raises serious concerns that further erode the public’s trust in Facebook.”

She also spent a considerable amount of time discussing the role Facebook has played in “fomenting ethnic violence against the Rohingya.”

Cantwell wrote that despite requests from one of her constituents in 2018 to shut down the accounts posting hate speech and images that were instigating violence, the tech giant “remained unresponsive to her and failed to take action in response to her communications.”

When reached for comment on Cantwell’s letter, a Facebook company spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that the platform has “absolutely no commercial incentive, no moral incentive, no company-wide incentive to do anything other than to try to give the maximum number of people as much of a positive experience as possible on Facebook, and that is what we do day in and day out."

“The growth of people or advertisers using Facebook means nothing if our services aren't being used in ways that bring people closer together. Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits, and investments in security impact our bottom line,” the spokesperson said.

“To say we turn a blind eye to feedback ignores these investments, which includes $13 billion since 2016, as well as 40,000 people working on safety and security at Facebook,” the spokesperson added.