Facebook hits red line in regulation fight with evidence that children are at risk

  • Facebook has survived major scandals in the past. But experts say this time it may be different
  • Whistle-blower Frances Haugen has exposed that Facebook has all along known its tools risk worsening young people’s eating disorders
Agence France-Presse |

Latest Articles

Top 10: What habits did you grow out of as you got older?

Play to Thrive project promotes youth mental health through football

Covid XBB variant vaccine’s first batch arrives in Hong Kong

Hong Kong gets first full-time college for adult prisoners

While Facebook has survived previous scandals, experts say it may be different this time. Photo: Reuters

Facebook’s previous major scandals barely dented its global dominance, but experts on Wednesday said the tech giant may have hit a red line this time: evidence that it knew children using its apps were at risk of being harmed.

A day after damning testimony to US lawmakers from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, the long-established barriers to regulation – stalled legislation, free speech protections and tech’s rapid advances – were still in place.

Facebook whistle-blower tells US Congress that the tech giant harms children

But an insider with the company’s own documents, showing that Facebook knew its tools risked worsening young people’s eating disorders or suicidal thoughts, may have been a turning point.

“The topic of kids being affected negatively by using Instagram or other social media apps is something Republicans and Democrats can agree upon,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Whistle-blower Frances Haugen has turned over Facebook’s internal documents to US securities regulators Photo: Bloomberg

He said the level of cross-party civility in Tuesday’s hearing was something he’d not seen in years, showing some of the impact of the drubbing Facebook has taken because of Haugen’s leaks.

Haugen exposed reams of internal research to authorities and The Wall Street Journal in an exposure that has fuelled one of the social network’s most serious crises yet.

9 of the best Facebook outage memes

The company has bounced back from other scandals like the one involving Cambridge Analytica, a British consulting firm that used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to target political ads.

In that case, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg went to Washington to apologise and the company agreed to a US$5 billion settlement with US regulators.

US lawmakers have not passed any laws targeting the company, despite the outrage over the hijacking of personal data of millions of users ahead of the 2016 US presidential election.

Facebook puts on hold it plans to build an Instagram for children. Why?

However, this new revelation about Facebook’s behaviour has seemingly hit a raw nerve.

“There are certain political issues that tend to be galvanising for folks and child protection is a key one,” said Allie Funk, senior research analyst in technology and democracy at Freedom House, a US think tank.

Zuckerberg said in a post on his account that Haugen’s assertion that his company prioritises profit over safety was “just not true.”

Yet of all the claims, he said he was “particularly focused” on the ones about Facebook and children, adding that he was “proud” of the work the company has done to help young people in distress.

Sign up for the YP Teachers Newsletter
Get updates for teachers sent directly to your inbox
By registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy