Event Recaps

Facebook whistleblowers reflect on and unpack the latest tech CEO hearing

Last month leaders of the largest Big Tech companies came to Washington, D.C. once again to answer to Congress for their failures to protect children online.

Following the hearing, Issue One hosted a virtual event with Facebook whistleblowers Arturo Béjar and Frances Haugen, a member of our Council for Responsible Social Media (CRSM) to unpack what we heard. Frances and Arturo are tech experts and leaders who both made the brave decision to blow the whistle on Big Tech after learning how much harm they were hiding from the American people. There are no two better perspectives to hear about the steps that Congress needs to take to truly hold these companies accountable. Linda Douglass, CRSM member and former communications director in the White House’s Office of Health Reform, moderated the lively conversation.

The panelists delivered thoughtful reflections about the January hearing by giving the audience both an advocate perspective and an insider view. Both Frances and Arturo have worked on the inside of Big Tech, on the outside to change Big Tech, and sat before Congress to expose Big Tech. This event was the first time they had spoken side by side and discussed their shared experiences as former employees at Meta, as witnesses before Congress, and their proposed solutions.

The main takeaway of the event was clear: We can’t have another tech CEO hearing followed by no legislative action. Arturo shared this frustration when saying: “If [tech companies’] marketing departments are responding to these issues, they are doing it wrong.” Mothers, young people, advocates, and others are tired of repeating themselves.

Furthermore, parents are exhausted by the burden of responsibility they have been wrongfully given by tech companies. Frances spoke to this poignantly when she said that before the internal Meta reports were revealed, parents who had lost their children “blamed themselves for their own child’s death.” When emphasizing the need for more “parental controls,” tech companies are shirking their responsibility to make their platforms safer. Frances emphasized that the “unfair balance of responsibility” placed on parents is a solution that only benefits the platforms themselves.

The reality is that tech companies are maintaining addictive and harmful features on their platform resulting in these harms. By putting the onus on parents, these companies are resisting the changes that only they can make.

Arturo and Frances have described numerous potential solutions to these problems both in front of Congress and during our recent event. For example, Arturo has suggested adding features within social media feeds and direct messaging that can be used to more accurately detect predators online. Frances has also emphasized the need for platform transparency so that researchers can access algorithmic data to identify these harms.

During the most recent hearing, there were nine pieces of legislation mentioned by legislators. As Frances said during the event, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Legislators and other stakeholders are looking for the perfect piece of legislation to regulate these platforms when the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) — a very strong bill with bipartisan support — will mitigate many of the harms facing kids. We continue to attempt to create a flawless solution, but children continue to suffer. As Frances stated, we need to encourage dynamic legislation that can serve as a starting point for further change.

Watch the recording from the event.