Written by Ilana Foggle, Opinion Writer, Redistricting & Political Analyst
Ah, Facebook – the social media platform that simultaneously connects us around the globe and creates divisions to tear us apart. Maybe you love Facebook. Maybe you hate it. But one thing I know we can all agree on is that any corporation – social media or otherwise – should not dictate what does and doesn’t become law. Last week, Frances Haugen, a whistleblower, and former Facebook product manager who worked on civic integrity issues, testified before Congress. And her testimony was enlightening but by no means shocking.
So, let’s break down Frances Haugen’s testimony.
For some context, since Facebook’s creation in 2006, the social media conglomerate acquired Instagram and WhatsApp to become the largest social networking company in the world. As social media began to boom, few knew the adverse effects that it would have on our young people and our democracy. But, Facebook did know, according to documents released by Ms. Haugen. And, according to her, Facebook did nothing to remedy these glaring issues because profit is more important than any moral or ethical obligation to its users and our nation.
Ms. Haugen bravely came forward to testify despite the significant personal risk for raising these concerns. Throughout her testimony, she discussed Facebook’s harmful practices of feeding division and condoning misinformation, as well as knowledge of its direct harm to vulnerable youth. Haugen said it best in her opening statement:
“I am here today because I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy. 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. They won’t solve this crisis without your help. We still have time to act. But we must act now.”
You see, this is not the first time that Facebook has been the subject of congressional hearings. In 2018, Facebook faced intense scrutiny for its failure to prevent the spread of misinformation throughout the 2016 presidential election. For years, Facebook has used lobbying practices to skirt congressional oversight while supporting policies that directly benefit the company.
Leading up to Frances Haugen’s testimony, Facebook donated $190,000 to the campaigns and political action committees of 11 of the 12 Senators on the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security in an attempt to legally bribe our elected officials to legislate in their favor.
In the first half of 2021 alone, Facebook spent $9.5 million on federal lobbying – the second most of all Big Tech companies, only behind Amazon. Oh, and in 2020, Facebook spent more on lobbying than any Big Tech company, with a whopping $19.6 million spent, making Facebook sixth in lobbying expenditures among all registered lobbying clients.
It goes even deeper than lobbying. A network of conservative “dark money” organizations have been working with Facebook to combat anti-trust legislation. Facebook disclosed collaborating with the National Taxpayers Union and gave the American Conservative Union at least $62,500 in 2017.
So, what does this mean? It means that despite Ms. Haugen’s testimony and a wealth of information on Facebook’s damage to our country, lawmakers are incentivized to act in Facebook’s favor.
Here’s the problem: corporations like Facebook are filling the campaign war chests of our congresspeople so that they answer to them and their checkbooks – not us: the people who elected them.
The truth is, our system is broken. Dark money, lobbying, and special interests are subverting our government’s ability to hold special interests accountable and make progress for the American people like they are supposed to. If we do not end the plague of supersized influence of special interests and billionaires in Washington D.C., we will continue to see legislation (or lack thereof) that supports the profits of the corporate elite.
If we want to protect young people, mend divisions, and save our democracy, we have to act now – before it’s too late. That’s why we need your help.
Sign the petition below to send a message to senators on the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security overseeing Facebook and other big tech corporations to urge them to stop accepting campaign contributions from the interests they regulate.