Baldwin apparently absent from Facebook whistleblower hearing

The Wisconsin Senator sits on the committee hosting the hearing
Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 11:14 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 6, 2021 at 7:29 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (WMTV) - Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin seems to have not attended a high-profile hearing by a former Facebook employee who testified Tuesday that the social media giant knew about the harms its own studies claimed were caused by the products, including the negative effects of Instagram on young girls.

Baldwin sits on the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, which hosted the hearing.

A review of footage indicated the Democratic senator did not ask any questions of Frances Haugen, the one-time data scientist at Facebook who released tens of thousands of pages of internal research by the company before she left her job with its civic integrity unit.

NBC15 News reached out to the Senator’s Office on Monday afternoon and again Tuesday morning to confirm her attendance at the hearing. The story will be updated with any response.

Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaks during a hearing of the Senate Commerce,...
Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaks during a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Washington.(Matt McClain/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

The subcommittee is examining Facebook’s use of information its own researchers compiled about Instagram. Those findings could indicate potential harm for some of its young users, especially girls, although Facebook publicly downplayed possible negative impacts. For some of the teens devoted to Facebook’s popular photo-sharing platform, the peer pressure generated by the visually focused Instagram led to mental health and body-image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, the research leaked by Haugen showed.

One internal study cited 13.5% of teen girls saying Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17% of teen girls saying it makes eating disorders worse.

During an interview with NBC15 News’ Vanessa Reza that happened after the committee questioned Haugen, Baldwin credited her whistleblowing as offering a “tremendous service to expose information that we would have not otherwise been able to easily access and hear some of the impacts of these social media platforms.

In the hearing, Haugen accused the company of failing to make changes to Instagram after internal research showed apparent harm to some teens and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation. She laid responsibility for the company’s profits-over-safety strategy right at the top, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.”

Baldwin’s comments echoed Haugen’s call for governmental action, declaring Congress has not passed meaningful regulatory action on digital spaces since 1996 and noting that the online space has changed dramatically since then.

The Associated Press contributed to the report.

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