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Oireachtas to invite Facebook whistleblower to appear before committee

Francis Haugen has made a number of blistering claims since going public earlier this month.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE OIREACHTAS MEDIA committee has agreed to invite Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen to appear before TDs and Senators next year. 

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne had called for the committee to invite Haugen in the wake of her testimony before a US Senate subcommittee earlier this month. 

Byrne told The Journal the Committee on Media has agreed to send an invitation to Haugen to answer questions about Facebook in the context of the Government’s proposed Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. 

The Bill will establish a Media Commission that will regulate social media companies for the first time in Ireland.

The Oireachtas Media Committee has recommended that there will also be an Online Safety Commissioner with a focus on tackling online harms.

“We’ve come to a really critical juncture in terms of the relationship between the State and some of the tech companies,” said Byrne, adding that Haugen’s testimony could help inform TDs and Senators.

“You can read a report but when somebody provides you with their own evidence and when they’re subject to questioning that allows legislators to firm up our opinions.”

Byrne said the committee is looking at inviting Haugen as part of its spring 2022 schedule. 

The former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower has made a number of blistering claims since going public earlier this month. 

On Monday, Haugen took questions from UK MPs and peers in London after releasing thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit.

The whistleblower shed light on her time with the tech giant, saying there was a “weak spot” on who you could turn to for escalating concerns.

“When I worked on counter espionage, I saw things where I was concerned about national security and I had no idea how to escalate those because I didn’t have faith in my chain of command,” she said.

“I flagged repeatedly when I worked on integrity that I felt that critical teams were understaffed.

“Right now there’s no incentives internally, that if you make noise, saying we need more help – people will not get rallied around for help, because everyone is underwater.”

Haugen likened failures at Facebook to an oil spill, telling the UK’s Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) that she “came forward now because now is the most critical time to act”.

“When we see something like an oil spill, that oil spill doesn’t make it harder for a society to regulate oil companies.

“But right now the failures of Facebook are making it harder for us to regulate Facebook.”

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Haugen also said that Facebook’s own research suggested Instagram is dangerous for young people.

She said the firm has the ability to make a “huge dent” on the problem if they wanted to but they do not because “young users are the future of the platform and the earlier they get them the more likely they’ll get them hooked”.

“When I was in high school, it didn’t matter if your experience in high school was horrible, most kids had good homes to go home to and they could at the end of the day disconnect, they would get a break for 16 hours,” she explained.

“Facebook’s own research says now the bullying follows children home, it goes into their bedrooms. The last thing they see at night is someone being cruel to them. The first thing they see in the morning is a hateful statement and that is just so much worse.”

She claimed that the firm’s own research found that Instagram is more dangerous than other social media such as TikTok and Snapchat, because the platform is focused on “social comparison about bodies, about people’s lifestyles, and that’s what ends up being worse for kids”.

Haugen also cast doubt on whether Instagram could ever be made safe for children.

Additional reporting by PA 

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