By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell on Tuesday called on Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to preserve all documents related to a testimony last week from company whistleblower Frances Haugen.
“The testimony … raises significant concerns about whether Facebook has misled the public, federal regulators, and this committee,” said Cantwell, a Democrat. “This committee will continue its oversight and work to pursue legislation to protect consumers’ privacy, improve data security, and strengthen federal enforcement to address the digital harms that are the subject of these hearings.”
She asked Facebook to preserve and retain internal Facebook research referenced by Haugen and Facebook’s evaluation of the research; ranking or composition systems; experiments or recommendations to change those ranking systems and the impact of Facebook’s platforms on children and teenagers under the age of 18.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in response the company 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.”
Cantwell’s letter cited “the potential danger that social media platforms pose for spreading divisive content was demonstrated, with horrifying consequences, by the role the Facebook platform played in fomenting ethnic violence against the Rohingya.”
She added “the role of Facebook’s platform in the Rohingya tragedy illustrates the horrible consequences that failing to effectively limit the spread of divisive content on social media platforms can have in inflicting public harm.”
Last month, a U.S. judge ordered Facebook to release records of accounts connected to anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar that the social media giant had shut down, rejecting its argument about protecting privacy as “rich with irony.”
Last week, the Commerce Committee harshly criticized Facebook, accusing Zuckerberg of pushing for higher profits while being cavalier about user safety, and demanded regulators investigate whistleblower accusations that the social media company harms children’s mental health and stokes divisions.
Zuckerberg defended the company, saying the accusations were at odds with Facebook’s goals.
Haugen called for transparency about how Facebook entices users to keep scrolling, creating ample opportunity for advertisers to reach them.
Haugen, a former product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team, left the nearly $1 trillion company with tens of thousands of confidential documents.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler; Editing by David Gregorio and Aurora Ellis)