Facebook should face questions from TDs on ethnic violence, says Sinn Féin TD

Whistle-blower Frances Haugen alleges company is ‘fanning the flames of violence’

Facebook should face questioning from Oireachtas members following allegations it products have helped to stoke violence against ethnic minorities, a Sinn Féin TD has said.

John Brady, who sits on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence has written to committee chair Charlie Flanagan to request that a Facebook representative be asked to appear before it.

The Wicklow TD made the request in response to testimony by a Facebook whistleblower to the US Congress alleging the company is aware of the harms its products cause but that it chooses not to take action for fear of losing revenue.

Frances Haugen, a former data scientist with the social media giant, said its own research shows it amplifies political unrest, hate speech and misinformation. This research is kept secret by the company, she told politicians last week.

Ms Haugen said Facebook’s ranking algorithms, which are primarily based on how many engagements a post receives, are “literally fanning ethnic violence”.

She says the company knows these ranking systems are dangerous but has failed to rollout out countermeasures. "And that's what is causing things like ethnic violence in Ethiopia. "

She also linked misinformation and hate speech shared on Facebook to violence in Myanmar, where about half of the 53 million population use Facebook. Facebook has been accused of promoting posts inciting violence against citizens who are protesting against the military coup in February.

Mr Brady said Facebook should face questions from TDs as the violence in Ethiopia and Myanmar fall under the remit of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I believe that this is a hugely important issue, and as both of both of these countries fall under the rubric of the [Ccommittee's] work plan for this year, I am formally requesting that the [committee] requests that a representative from Facebook be asked to appear before the committee to answer questions in relation to this matter,” his letter to Mr Flanagan said.

Mr Flanagan told The Irish Times the matter will be “fully considered by the Committee in the context of our work programme”.

This would be the first time company representatives would face questions from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Earlier this year, Facebook representatives faced tough questioning from the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Local Government over allegations it is undermining democracy and coarsening public debate by allowing anonymous accounts to make false and misleading statements without sanction.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times