Fianna Fáil Senator Malcom Byrne has asked the Oireachtas Media Committee to invite Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen to Dublin to speak about allegations that the social media company puts “astronomical profits” before the safety of its users.
s Haugen, a former Facebook product manager on the tech giant’s civic integrity team, testified before the US congress last Tuesday to warn about several of the company’s business practices.
She claims to have obtained a trove of explosive documents which allege that Facebook knew its products were fuelling hate and negatively impacting the mental health of children and teenagers.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Mr Byrne said: “I think it is important we hear her testimony in Dublin.
“As part of the online safety media regulation bill we are setting up a new media commission, which will regulate social media companies and — given how many have their European headquarters here — I would like to see Ireland take a leadership role on this issue.”
He added that although “there is a lot of good” to social media, the time has come to stamp out “bullying, harassment, anonymous trolls, fake news, misinformation and polarised debate” that has become a common feature on the platforms. Mr Byrne added that since Ms Haugen has “worked on the inside” of Facebook, which owns Instagram and the WhatsApp messaging service, she has confirmed our “worst fears” about “what we already know”.
“It is clear that social media companies have not done enough in this respect. The era of self-regulation is over. We need the State and citizens to be placed back in control.”
Drawing parallels between social media and the tobacco industry in the 1960s and 1970s, Mr Byrne said: “It’s clear more and more people are becoming addicted,” and just as society responded to the threat of big tobacco “we have to have safeguards in place concerning social media addiction”.
He said if we don’t ensure the digital space is a safe environment for all of us, then it will lead to “an increase in issues such as low self-esteem and more polarised political debate which constitute enormous threats to society and democracy”.
In her evidence, Ms Haugen provided documents that showed researchers inside Instagram had studied the impact of the photo-sharing platform on the mental health of young girls. They found 32pc of teen girls said when they feel bad about their bodies, Instagram makes them feel worse.