Democrats and Republicans appeared united on Tuesday on the need to enact reforms to protect social media users from the harmful effects of Facebook’s algorithms, which were documented in leaks provided to the Wall Street Journal last month. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower, testified before the Senate Commerce subcommittee about the tech giant’s own decision-making in the face of internal research showing that its platform was being used for sinister purposes, and that its algorithms promoted content that triggered outrage, or was hateful. Among other things, Facebook was being used to incite genocide against ethnic minorities in Ethiopia, promote human trafficking, and sow doubt about the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Journal reports.
Despite the evidence of these uses, which Facebook itself compiled—and is accused of keeping secret—Haugen maintains the social media company turned a blind eye, neglecting its duty to inform its shareholders and the public about what it knows, and profited off the ill effects of its algorithms.
But as ready as Democrats and Republicans appear to work together to shine a light on the inner workings of Facebook and other tech giants, it remains to be seen if any potential political solutions they devise really will reflect a consensus on the fundamental issues at hand, several Northeastern experts say. “The question is can they craft something that sort of satisfies both sides of the aisle,” says John Wihbey, associate professor of journalism and media innovation at Northeastern. “We’ve seen this before. Whenever tech [executives] go before Congress, they tend to be grilled on the left and the right, and for different reasons.”