(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The Facebook whistleblower called on Congress to take action Tuesday saying a safer internet is still possible, and demanding accountability for Facebook's founder.
Former employee Frances Haugen released tens of thousands of pages of internal research from the social media giant that showed the company knew its apps were harmful to users.
Local social media experts said they were impressed by the Facebook employee turned whistleblower Tuesday and that it was hard to disagree with what she was saying.
"She's saying they are not doing enough to protect the society's greater good with what they've done and not done,” Missouri Western State University professor Jennifer Jackson said.
John Dailey, Northwest Professor: “We are trying to get engagement and it seems that we've discovered that the best way to get engagement is to make people angry,” Northwest Missouri State University professor John Dailey said.
Frances Haugen testified before congress that the media giant knows more about the damage Facebook and Instagram are causing than it lets on and put profits before people.
"The choices being made inside Facebook are disastrous for our children, for public safety, for privacy and democracy and that is why we must demand Facebook make changes,” Frances Haugen said.
Haugen alleged Facebook and its sister apps including Instagram, know in detail how harmful the platforms are to teens' mental health and body image.
"One of the documents we sent in on problematic use examined the rates by age and that piqued with 14-year-olds. It's just like cigarettes. Teens don't have good self-regulation. They say I feel bad when I use Instagram, but yet I can't stop,” Haugen said.
Something Missouri Western professor Jennifer Jackson says social media analysts have been trying to alert the public for a while.
“Media research, I've talked about it with my students for years that social media can create a lot of harm to especially young girls but we can't forget that young men are involved in this as well. These teenagers are seeing unrealistic body images as being portrayed as the ideal that they can't uphold and it's causing an increase in low self-esteem, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and several other concerning situations,” Jackson said.
Children are not the only ones exposed to harmful content on social media.
"It is causing more teenagers to be exposed to anorexia content. It is tearing families apart and in places like Ethiopia it is literally fanning ethnic violence. I encourage the reform of these platforms. Not picking and choosing individual ideas but instead making the platforms safer, less twitchy, less reactive, less viral because that's how we solve these problems,” Haugen said.
Haugen testified that Facebook's algorithms created an environment where polarization, misinformation, and shocking content thrive.
“They wanted the acceleration of the platform back after the election, they returned to their original defaults. And the fact that they had to break the glass on January 6th and turn them back on, I think that's deeply problematic,” Haugen said.
Northwest professor John Dailey says the algorithms may have been designed to bring family and friends to the forefront of your feed, but such a small closed-circuit world can be dangerous.
“We are trying to get engagement and it seems that we've discovered that the best way to get engagement is to make people angry. The problem is that I'm not even hearing anything from the other side because the algorithm in the system is not showing me any communication other than from the people I already know. The things I already agree with so the echo chamber becomes self-reinforcing. There's no place for new air to get in,” Dailey said.
In a surprising turn of events, a Facebook spokesperson tweeted that he agreed with the whistleblower on one thing. It was time for congress to begin regulating the platforms, now the question is how do they do it.
“I think we have the tech to fix it and maybe that's just what happened. Finally, the people who ruined Facebook are going, 'We need help because you're right, it went too far,” Dailey said.
“I was surprised when they asked Congress to step in. You do not usually see these companies asking the government to interfere. I don't think the public is going to react well because there is this idea of free expression on social media and the regulators will be regulating that too,” Jackson said.