Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has warned that the EU and the UK “would have missed a great opportunity” if they did not broaden the scope of new digital laws to force technology companies to keep harmful content off their sites.

The EU and the UK are enacting landmark legislation that will hold technology companies accountable for any illegal content on their sites, such as hate speech or posts inciting violence or terrorism.

But Haugen, speaks to the Financial Times after her testimony The European Parliament said on Monday that limiting the scope to illegal content would be a mistake.

She claimed that Facebook’s algorithms could quickly drag people into psychological rabbit holes. “In the case of children, they can pursue very neutral interests such as healthy eating habits and be drawn into anorexia content,” Haugen said. “It’s not illegal, but it’s really harmful and children die because of those things.”

Facebook declined to comment.

Haugen’s remarks come at a particularly tense point in discussions between member states and legislators in Brussels on the forthcoming Digital Services Act. France, in particular, was aggressively insisting on harmful content and disinformation to be policed ​​by Big Tech as part of new legal obligations.

In the UK, lawmakers drafting the online security bill have struggled to define what legal damages, such as bullying or misinformation, will fall within the scope of the new law. They have been opposed by technology companies and acquittal lawyers who believe it will result in too much censorship.

Haugen also said lawmakers should discuss the risks of advertising, pointing out that hateful political advertising is five to 10 times cheaper for Facebook customers, compared to empathetic or compassionate advertising, a structure she has repeatedly described as “subsidizing” hate”.

“We have a lot of problems with advertising, where I think having a specific bill that they approach is very important,” she said. “People are being targeted with diet ads that are extreme, which is why Facebook has banned those ads for children because they know it is dangerous.”

Facebook said it restricts diet ads to all users. The company also Announced Tuesday that it will no longer allow companies and organizations to target ads based on political beliefs, sexual orientation, religion or health.

Facebook said it was responding to “commercials from experts that targeting options like these could be used in ways that lead to negative experiences for people in under-represented groups”, while acknowledging that this would have a negative effect on advertising partners.

Haugen, speaks to MEPs at the European Parliament in Brussels,
Haugen, speaking to MEPs in Brussels, says laws drafted in Europe will be reflected by other regions © Geert Vanden Wijngaert / AP

Haugen said the laws being drafted in Europe and the UK would be repeated in other countries, and had the potential to force companies like Facebook to change their systems, similar to their response to the UK’s Child Code in September took effect.

“Let’s imagine a world where Facebook has to reveal what security systems exist and in what languages ​​they were and the effectiveness of those systems. Even if they only did it for European content, researchers around the world would have a window into how Facebook works. . . and there will be pressure for them to improve, ”she said.

Haugen gave hours of testimony to U.S. lawmakers and regulators, the UK and Brussels, and must provide proof to French regulators before returning to Puerto Rico. She says she has no regrets about revealing her identity or the internal Facebook documents.

“Whistleblowers are only going to become more and more important to society – technology is accelerating faster and faster and the only people who understand this technology are people within the companies,” Haugen said.

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