In her opening statement in her testimony about Facebook to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection on October 5, 2021 Frances Haugen compared Facebook to Big Tobacco, as did Subcommittee Chair Richard Blumental (who sued the tobacco companies in the 1990s) and several other senators.
I watched the whole 3 1/2 hour hearing and, based on my 27 years of researching tobacco industry documents, they’re right.
Here are some specific ways that Facebook acts like Big Tobacco:
- Facebook knows they need kids to continue growing their customer base
- Facebook denies recruiting kids while knowing that they have hundreds of thousands of kids on their apps
- Facebook maintains design features that appeal to kids
- Facebook conducts high quality research on the effects of its platform that is way ahead of the general scientific community
- Facebook keeps this research secret
- Facebook uses this research to refine its products to increase profits
- Facebook understands the harms that it is inflicting on many users
- Facebook claim that the internal documents that Frances Haugen made available do not accurately reflect Facebook’s understanding or are being misinterpreted
- Facebook did not set out to harm kids and others, but is willing to accept those harms in order to maximize profits
- Facebook is campaigning for “responsible government regulation” in a way that will insulate it from future regulatory risks
For examples of how the tobacco companies do these things, see The Cigarette Papers and subsequent research done using previously secret tobacco industry documents over the last quarter century.
The documents that Haugen made available to the government and media (beginning with the Wall Street Journal) are obviously important. I urge her or Congress to donate the documents to the UCSF Industry Documents Library so it can make them public so that everyone can read and study them along side of opioid, food, chemical and other industry documents.
Congress should keep demanding documents and also make them public.
You can watch the whole hearing here: