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October 6, 2021

Daily News Lesson: Facebook whistleblower asks Congress to regulate influence on users, including children

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Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. Some students may find it easier to read along with the transcript or turn on closed captions/CC.

Summary: Facebook is under fire Tuesday following testimony by a former employee before a U.S. Senate committee. Frances Haugen alleged the company too frequently turns a blind eye to potential harm for the sake of profit. Facebook denied that in statements to the PBS NewsHour and said it is working to make its platforms safer.

Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, which makes it the owner of the world’s three most popular apps. “It is not ok,” Taha Yasseri, a senior research fellow in computation science at the Oxford Internet Institute, told the BBC. “Combined, the data from multiple platforms can lead to an extremely high level of precision in modelling our traits and behaviours. This amount of power should be regulated.” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, denied the allegations in a letter to his employees and said the company dedicates a significant efforts to the issue of transparency.

Discussion questions: 

Warm up questions: Have your students identify the 5Ws and an H:

  • Who testified before the U.S. Senate and what is her background?
  • What are some of the concerns raised by the whistleblower about Facebook’s practices?
  • When did Facebook complete a review on its impact on mental health?
  • Why did Haugen call for regulating social media instead of breaking up Facebook?
  • How did Facebook push back against accusations that its products (Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp) were bad for teen mental health?

Focus questions:

  1. Do you think it’s a good idea for the federal government to regulate the information that is shared over social media based on the impact it has on viewers? What might be some unintended consequences of federal regulation of social media content?
  2. Do you think Haugen’s concerns are valid? Explain.
  3. How does social media positively or negatively impact teens’ mental health?

Media literacy: Do you think the First Amendment protects social media companies from regulating the content on their sites? Why or why not?

Additional resources:

Watch the testimony in the tweet below for more of Haugen’s testimony. If you want to watch more of her testimony, you can do so here. Why does Haugen warn against targeting children as young as eight-years-old for its Messenger Kids app?

  • Is it possible to create new internet or social media regulations that also respect First Amendment rights? One former Facebook engineer makes a case in this New York Times opinion piece.

 


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