Facebook stock plummets as criticism, woes mount

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News



Facebook’s tough weekend bled into a disastrous Monday and Tuesday. Following a Sunday exposé on “60 Minutes”, Facebook began the workweek with a multi-platform calamity, massive stock dip, and fresh wave of bipartisan criticism, all while the company continues to fight an antitrust lawsuit.

The onslaught of anti-Facebook sentiment stems from a whistleblower report by former Facebook employee Francis Haugen, who revealed her identity on “60 Minutes,” as well as an extensive investigative series by the Wall Street Journal. 

Both parties say Facebook – which owns, among several dozen more tech platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp – is aware that content on its sites spreads misinformation, fosters extremism, and is dangerous to the mental health of its users, especially children.

Facebook has vigorously denied the Journal’s reporting and Haugen’s complaints. Through Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s director of policy communications, the company offered “60 Minutes” a point-by-point response to the criticism. 

“Every day our teams have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place,” Pietsch told “60 Minutes.” “We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true.”

On Tuesday, Haugen told the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (the full hearing can be viewed here) that Facebook has refused to address its issues because to do so would harm profit. 

“I am here today because I believe Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our Democracy,” Haugen said. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

Haugen was met with a chorus of bipartisan support and calls for legislative action.  

“The recent revelations about Facebook’s mental health effects on children and its plan to target younger audiences are indeed disturbing,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said. “And I think you are going to see a lot of bipartisan concern about this today and in future hearings. [The revelations] show how urgent it is for Congress to act against powerful tech companies on behalf of children and the broader public.” 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) described Facebook as indifferent and insensitive:

When their own research found that more than 13% of teen girls say that Instagram made their thoughts of suicide worse, what did they do? They proposed Instagram for Kids, which has now been put on pause because of public pressure. When they found out that their algorithms are fostering polarization, misinformation, and hate, that they allowed 99% of their violent content to remain, unchecked, on their platform – including (the) lead up to the Jan. 6 insurrection – what did they do? …  as we know, Mark Zuckerberg’s going sailing and saying ‘no apologies’. I think the time has come for action and I think you (Haugen) are the catalyst for that action.” 

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Facebook is violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which was enshrined into federal law in 1998. 

“It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the wellbeing of children and all users,” Blackburn said. “So as a mother and a grandmother, this is an issue that is of particular concern to me.”

Tuesday’s Capitol Hill episode followed a Monday on which Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsAp went offline for about six hours, downtime that tech website Ars Technica said likely cost Facebook about $60 million. 

Santosh Janardhan, Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure said in a statement, that the outage was caused by a configuration change and Zuckerberg took to his original platform to offer an apology.

“Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger are coming back online now,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. “Sorry for the disruption today — I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about.”

At the subcommittee hearing, Haugen said she viewed the outage as a net positive.

“Yesterday, we saw Facebook get taken off the internet,” Haugen said. “I don’t know why it went down, but I know that for more than five hours, Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies, and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) used the fact that people’s personal and business communication suffered across platforms as the launch point for her own attack.

“If Facebook’s monopolistic behavior was checked back when it should’ve been (perhaps around the time it started acquiring competitors like Instagram),” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “the continents of people who depend on WhatsApp & IG for either communication or commerce would be fine right now. Break them up.”

On Monday, Facebook again asked a federal judge to dismiss an antitrust suit filed by the FTC in late 2020. In the most recent request, Facebook argues it does not enjoy a monopoly over social media as it has adequate national and international competition from the likes of Google and TikTok. 

“The FTC cannot credibly claim Facebook has monopoly power because no such power exists,” Facebook said in a statement. “We continuously innovate and improve our products and services to earn people’s time and attention because we have to in order to compete with rivals like TikTok which recently announced it reached 1 billion monthly active users.”

In August, the FTC filed an amended complaint in which it accused Facebook of seeking to “buy or bury” its competition. 

“Facebook lacked the business acumen and technical talent to survive the transition to mobile,” FTC Bureau of Competition Acting Director Holly Vedova said in August. “After failing to compete with new innovators, Facebook illegally bought or buried them when their popularity became an existential threat. This conduct is no less anticompetitive than if Facebook had bribed emerging app competitors not to compete.”