Sen. Blumenthal Pushes Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Testify

Richard Blumenthal and Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen at a Senate subcommittee hearing.
Richard Blumenthal and Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen at an Oct. 5 Senate subcommittee hearing. (Image credit: C-SPAN)

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Subcommittee, is trying to pressure Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify on Instagram's impact on youth before his panel, saying to date the executive has been evasive and his company dismissive of evidence it puts profits before the health of teen users.

Also Read: At Haugen Hearing, Blumenthal Calls It Big Tech's Big Tobacco Moment

That pressure has been growing in the wake of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony to Congress. Haugen, armed with internal research, told the Senate that the company prioritizes profit over the mental health of its users and knows it is doing so. Facebook says the research shows the company’s Instagram social-media platform is helpful, not harmful, to most teens, and that it used the research to help the minority who said Instagram reinforced their negative body images.

Haugen told Blumenthal and the subcommittee that Facebook was buying its profits with consumer safety and that it intentionally hides documents and repeatedly misleads the public. Until incentives change, she argued, the company won't.

Blumenthal wrote that “as recently as this weekend,” the company was continuing to downplay the reporting about the impact of the research as an “orchestrated ‘gotcha’ campaign.”

The senator said Zuckerberg needed to clear up some inconsistencies between Haugen's testimony and that of Antigone Davis, global head of safety for Facebook, in a separate hearing. There have been multiple hearings on Big Tech's impact on little users.

Blumenthal, in a letter to the CEO dated Wednesday, said Zuckerberg has “doubled down on evasive answers” and “kept hidden” reports on the health of its teenage users, only providing vague plans for action sometime in the future. "Rather than casting baseless aspirations on whistleblowers and journalists, Facebook should be vigorously acting to provide parents with firm commitments for dramatic reforms and direct answers. Sadly, it is not," he says.

Blumenthal wrote that it was “urgent and necessary” for Zuckerberg or Adam Mosseri, who heads up Instagram for Facebook, to testify.

While Facebook has been pushing back on characterizations related to its internal research, it has at the same time blanketed D.C. with ads talking about how it wanted the government to step in and set rules of the road for content moderation.

That effort is in part to head off tough legislation that could break up Big Tech companies or curtail or eliminate their immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from civil liability for most third-party content.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.