Whether Congress will regulate Facebook, and what drove the social media giant’s recent blackout

“I really think Facebook, and particularly Mark Zuckerberg, recognize that you can't be on top forever, but they want to try as long as they can,” says Mike Isaac, technology correspondent for the New York Times. Photo by Shutterstock.

Today Frances Haugen, a former product manager for Facebook, testified before a Senate committee, arguing that the social media company needs to be regulated.

“As long as Facebook is operating in the shadows, hiding its research from public scrutiny, it is unaccountable. Until the incentives change, Facebook will not change. Left alone, Facebook will continue to make choices that go against the common good,” she said.

Haugen revealed in a “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday that she secretly copied tens of thousands of documents before leaving Facebook — and handed them to federal law enforcement officials, members of Congress, and the Wall Street Journal. 

Those documents detail how Facebook’s algorithm actively boosts posts that make users angry because it spurs engagement and therefore ad dollars.

“I saw Facebook repeatedly encounter conflict between its own profits and our safety. Facebook consistently resolved these conflicts in favor of their own profits. The result has been more division, more harm, or lies, threats, and combat,” Haugen said at today’s hearing.

Senators asked even-handed and informed questions, and Haugen presented herself as a competent, intelligent and insightful witness, says Mike Isaac, technology correspondent for the New York Times.

Meanwhile, his colleague Kevin Roose published an op-ed on Monday suggesting that Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, knows its best days are behind it.

“A lot of the research basically said, ‘Look, we're losing young people to companies like TikTok, to companies like YouTube, to companies like Snap. And we don't know what the next big social app is going to be for the next generation of social media users.’ … Facebook is largely seen now as the social network for Boomers, and young folks are not really super into it. And Instagram is going to have dominance among young people for only so long until the next thing comes around,” Isaac says. 

He continues, “I really think Facebook, and particularly Mark Zuckerberg, recognize that you can't be on top forever, but they want to try as long as they can. And that's what a lot of this research is aimed at — keeping their dominance for as long as possible.”

Meanwhile on Monday, all of Facebook’s apps shut down for hours. Isaac says it was a “total scramble” to figure out what was happening, and people within the company didn’t even know. 

“One person called it a snow day at Facebook. They couldn't get into some of the rooms with the key cards that they use to get into different offices or data centers,” he says. “Basically, someone pushed a change to their code that spread quickly, as it does when they make server changes. But it was essentially a system-breaking change that took down the entire thing. What they ultimately did is get into their server rooms — a data center in Santa Clara — roll the previous version of Facebook back, and slowly the apps came back to life.”

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