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Facebook was squarely in the spotlight, yet again, Monday with dozens of reports published based on documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen. But YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat will be in the hot seat Tuesday at a Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee hearing about kids’ safety online.
Meanwhile, Microsoft issued a warning that the group behind the Solarwinds attack launched another campaign, and Haugen met with lawmakers in the U.K. to discuss the internal Facebook documents she leaked.
Let’s jump in.
‘Facebook Papers’ up the stakes
Several news outlets published stories Monday based on thousands of internal Facebook documents from whistleblower Frances Haugen, ratcheting up the pressure on a company already besieged by weeks of high-profile criticism.
Together the reports paint a picture of a company that prioritizes profits to the point of ignoring clear internal warning signs, dismisses concerns outside of the United States and is desperate to cling onto an aging user base.
“One of the most important themes that runs through all of these revelations is that Facebook was very much aware of all of its vulnerabilities and shortcomings, had internal research to explain these problems and in case after case top management chose to protect engagement and growth over safety concerns,” Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told The Hill.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone pushed back on the central arguments in Monday’s reporting in a statement touting investment in cleaning up the platform.
"At the heart of these stories is a premise which is false,” he said. “Yes, we're a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people's safety or wellbeing misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie. The truth is we’ve invested $13 billion and have over 40,000 people to do one job: keep people safe on Facebook.”
After weeks of negative press for Facebook kicked off by The Wall Street Journal’s initial series on Haugen’s documents and capped by the dozens of stories released Monday, attention will now turn to Washington.
Lawmakers were fired up after Haugen’s appearance before the Senate, but the path forward for policy ramifications remains unclear.
Welcome to Capitol Hill
TikTok and Snapchat executives will make their debut on Capitol Hill Tuesday, testifying for the first time before a Senate panel about safety precautions for young users.
Members of the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee are expected to grill executives from the social media companies, along with a representative for YouTube, about their platforms’ effects on kids and teens. The hearing comes as some lawmakers look to use the building momentum from leaks about Instagram and Facebook to push for new regulations on tech companies.
TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube, which has previously dispatched executives to Capitol Hill, will likely face similar questions to ones the panel posed to Facebook’s global head of safety Antigone Davis at a hearing earlier this month.
Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, a nonprofit that fights commercial marketing to children and excessive screen time, said lawmakers should put questions about the platforms’ amplification of harmful content front and center during the hearing.
The senators should grill the companies — especially TikTok and YouTube, which are driven by sophisticated algorithms that recommend video content to users — about personalizing content in ways that lead to “excessive time” on platforms and exposure to potentially harmful content, Golin said.
A RENEWED EFFORT
A year after Russian government hackers compromised almost a dozen U.S. federal agencies, renewed efforts by the same group to target the global IT supply chain are painting a picture of a defiant Russia undeterred by U.S. efforts to clamp down on malicious cyber activity.
The Biden administration has imposed sanctions and there has been an unprecedented amount of international pressure on Russia to take action against both government-linked hackers and cybercriminals within its borders.
But the efforts appear to have done little to police the activity given Microsoft’s announcement Monday that the same Russian hacking group behind last year’s SolarWinds hack is continuing to target organizations.
“They have intelligence requirements that they are tasked with fulfilling, and they are unlikely to be deterred from doing that, that’s their job,” John Hultquist, the vice president of intelligence analysis at cybersecurity group Mandiant, told The Hill Monday.
“Until they think that they are not being spied on, Russia’s not going to give up espionage.”
HAUGEN HEADS ACROSS THE POND
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen told British lawmakers Monday the social media platform exacerbates online hate, with the company failing to allocate adequate resources to combat the issue.
“Unquestionably, it’s making hate worse,” Haugen told a parliamentary committee.
Her testimony follows an appearance before a Senate Commerce subcommittee earlier this month. Her United Kingdom appearance coincided with the publication of dozens of reports based on internal Facebook documents taken by Haugen before she left the company.
During Monday’s committee meeting in the U.K., Haugen underscored accusations that Facebook doesn’t prioritize safety by referencing the company’s plans to ramp up hiring for its “metaverse.” Facebook said last week it is planning to hire up to 10,000 workers in Europe to build the plan for the virtual and augmented reality realm.
“I was like, ‘Wow, do you know what we could have done with safety if we had 10,000 more engineers?’ It would be amazing,” she said.
BITS AND PIECES
An op-ed to chew on: Why 6G hardware matters: The case for ‘Made in America’
Lighter click: Saddest six words :/
Notable links from around the web:
Inside Amazon’s Worst Human Resources Problem (The New York Times / Jodi Kantor, Karen Weise and Grace Ashford)
It’s Frances Haugen’s world. We’re all just living in it. (Protocol/ Issie Lapowsky)
Here's the FBI's Internal Guide for Getting Data from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon (Motherboard / Joseph Cox)
One last thing: Twitter bans Banks
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said Saturday that his official Twitter account had been suspended over a post he made about Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary for health Rachel LevineRachel LevineBiden mourns loss of transgender Americans who died by violence in 2021 Indiana congressman regains control of Twitter account but stands by post that misgendered official Hillicon Valley — Facebook news dominates the day MORE, who is transgender.
According to a screenshot posted of the tweet, Banks said “the title of first female four-star officer gets taken by a man,” a reference to Levine, who became the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps' first openly transgender four-star officer.
“The account referenced has been temporarily locked for violating our Hateful Conduct Policy. The account owner is required to delete the violative Tweet before regaining access to their account,” a Twitter spokesperson told The Hill in a statement.