Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Facebook is “proffering more talk & crocodile tears about protecting children,” after a top executive defended the company in a round of Sunday interviews.
On Sunday, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, defended Facebook after a week of mounting criticism over a whistleblower report and testimony that the social media company knew its platform was harmful to children and did nothing about it, pushing back on analogies that the company was like Big Tobacco.
During a Senate hearing last week Blumenthal said Facebook was facing a “Big Tobacco moment.”
In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Clegg said the analogy was “misleading.”
“We’re a social media app that many, many people around the world use because it brings utility, it helps small businesses, it brings joy, it brings pleasure, it connects to you with people you care and love the most. That’s what Facebook is about.”
Following Clegg’s interviews, Blumenthal said in a Twitter thread that the company is focused on PR, not protecting children.
“More bromides & platitudes from Facebook on the Sunday shows. Their aim should be protecting kids, not winning PR. Unspecific, superficial generalities are no substitute for real action,” Blumenthal said.
Last Sunday, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, revealed she was the whistleblower who helped with The Wall Street Journal Facebook Files series, which detailed how Facebook leadership was aware of internal reports that showed the platform was causing harm but were not addressing the issue.
She said Facebook isn’t fighting the spread of disinformation and intentionally leaves up harmful content because it’s profitable.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money,” Haugen said in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last week.
She testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday.
Blumenthal on Sunday doubled down on the Big Tobacco analogy. “Facebook says Congress should pass reforms—but then behind the scenes it fights them with millions of dollars, armies of lobbyists & lawyers, & blizzards of ads. Another page from Big Tobacco’s playbook,” he said.
The senator added, if “Facebook is serious about helping to keep our kids safe online, it will cancel Instagram Kids, release its research, & support Mark Zuckerberg coming to my Commerce subcommittee to back real reform.”
Facebook did not respond to Insider’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Last week, Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications told Insider in a statement that Haugen’s allegations were false.
“We’ve invested heavily in people and technology to keep our platform safe, and have made fighting misinformation and providing authoritative information a priority,” Pietsch said. “If any research had identified an exact solution to these complex challenges, the tech industry, governments, and society would have solved them a long time ago. We have a strong track record of using our research — as well as external research and close collaboration with experts and organizations — to inform changes to our apps.”