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Blumenthal releases whistleblower documents claiming Facebook knew toxic content harmed kids

Senator Richard Blumenthal speaks during a press conference with community leaders at the state Capitol to condemn threats and violence after a warning from the Department of Homeland Security that Anti-Semitic, Anti-Arab and Islamophobic violence is rising following the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Hartford, Connecticut October 27, 2023.
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
Senator Richard Blumenthal speaks during a press conference with community leaders at the state Capitol to condemn threats and violence after a warning from the Department of Homeland Security that Anti-Semitic, Anti-Arab and Islamophobic violence is rising following the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Hartford, Connecticut October 27, 2023.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal addressed a Senate subcommittee Tuesday in a hearing on privacy, technology, and the law the same day he released whistleblower documents from Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Blumenthal introduced whistleblower Arturo Bejar, former director of engineering for protect and care at Facebook.

“Mr. Bejar is the first to show in documents, not just in his recollection, but in documents how he warned the top management of Facebook and Instagram of the ongoing harms their products were causing,” Blumenthal said in his hearing remarks Tuesday.

He invited Bejar to testify about his experiences and warnings to company leadership about toxic content targeting children on Facebook.

"They minimize the problem of toxic content on bullying, eating disorders, and sexual advances,” Blumenthal said. “They were warned about it by Arturo Bejar in an email that he sent directly to Mark Zuckerberg. The response came from Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer CEO of the company.”

Blumenthal says Bejar’s concerns weren’t acted on.

“He met with Adam Lucero, who was the head of Facebook,” Blumenthal said. “Facebook, in effect, rolled back some of the protections for kids rather than adopting his recommendations for stronger safeguard".

Speaking in Hartford on Monday, Blumenthal said Bejar's testimony could help drum up support for the Online Kids Safety Act, a bill aimed at regulating social media content that is harmful to children and teenagers.

Meta had disregarded a whistleblower's alerts, Blumenthal said, while ignoring recommendations to improve user experience and prioritize the well-being of teenagers.

"A third or more of the teenagers on Facebook are receiving this kind of absolutely toxic content," he said. "In fact, Facebook continues to present misleading data to the public and to the United States Congress, and continues with a business model that puts profits over teenagers' well being."

Bejar is not the only individual who has exposed Meta's online practices. In 2021, Frances Hauge, a former product manager for civic misinformation, came forward and revealed that Facebook has prioritized its financial gains over the safety and well-being of its users. Blumenthal said these revelations prove that Meta's practices are not isolated incidents but a systematic issue within the company.

A Pew Research study shows that teens mostly use the Meta product Instagram, while 19% report daily use of Facebook. Many teens think criminal charges or permanent bans would help to minimize bullying or harassment of others on social media.

The Online Kids Safety Act currently has 50 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle and aims to give parents and children the tools to disconnect from harmful algorithms and hold tech companies accountable.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

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