Facebook’s algorithmic manipulation is fueling the extremism that led to the January 6 attack. Data privacy is fundamental to disarming Facebook’s data weapon.
Today, Fight for the Future, Senator Ron Wyden, and a coalition of civil and human rights groups delivered a petition signed by over 24,000 people calling on Congress to pass a federal data privacy law. Coalition members urged lawmakers to protect against attacks like that on the Capitol last year by addressing Facebook’s data-fueled algorithmic manipulation.
When Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress in October, she named algorithmic manipulation as the platform’s source of power. Algorithmic manipulation is only possible with invasive and copious personal data on individual people, harvested via mass surveillance.
The anniversary of January 6 falls at the beginning of the midterm election cycle, further highlighting how Facebook’s algorithmic manipulation is a threat to our democracy and election integrity because it intensifies the far-right extremism that led to the attack on the Capitol. In order to #StopFacebook, lawmakers must focus on cutting off the fuel supply for Facebook’s data weapon by passing a federal data privacy law.
Speakers at the petition delivery included Senator Wyden and representatives from Fight for the Future, Access Now, Public Citizen, and Open Media.
Senator Ron Wyden stated, ”If we had a strong privacy law on the books, Mark Zuckerberg would already be in jail for his serial lying about Facebook’s abuse of Americans’ data. Congress has the opportunity to act now by passing a comprehensive privacy law that can cut off the flow of data to Facebook’s outrage machine by setting strong new rules for how companies can collect, share and use Americans’ personal information. That will go right to Facebook’s business model and hit its bottom line, which seems to be the only thing that company cares about.”
Erica Darragh, campaigner at Fight for the Future, added, “Facebook’s business model has evolved into social engineering via psychological warfare. The platform weaponizes user data to fuel algorithmic manipulation in order to maximize ad sales – not just for products, but for ideas like the disinformation that led to the conspiracy theories associated with the January 6 Capitol attack. If Congress is serious about addressing the harms of social media, holding Big Tech accountable, and protecting our democracy, they must prioritize data privacy legislation in time to protect the integrity of the midterm elections.”
Willmary Escoto, U.S. Policy Analyst at Access Now stated, “How many whistleblowers will it take for the U.S. Congress to rein in Silicon Valley? We need a federal data privacy law in the United States, and we need it now. Our data is harvested and weaponized against us, fueling algorithmic discrimination against the most marginalized communities and violating our right to privacy. People are fed up, and the tens of thousands of petition signatures urging Congress to pass a data protection law are a rallying cry for action.”
Matt Hatfield, Campaigns Director at Open Media, said “The secretive collection, sale and algorithmic manipulation of our personal data by platforms like Facebook must end. It is a primary driver of the virality of the misinformation, hate speech, and online radicalization that people across the political spectrum are worried about. Congress passing a strong data protection law in 2022 that limits these practices will be one of the most important steps they can take to safeguard democracy and protect freedom of speech, both in America and around the world.”
Public Citizen Executive Vice President Lisa Gilbert added, “As we approach the one year ‘anniversary’ of January 6th, we demand that Facebook be held accountable for the harm it has caused. Public Citizen stands with our allies to call on Congress to show the world its commitment to a transparent social media ecosystem that protects our digital civil rights and enhances, not hinders, democracy both at home and abroad.”
Other coalition members and Congressional allies shared their perspectives as well:
Senator Richard Blumenthal stated, “We must put a stop to Big Tech’s extreme exploitation of Americans’ sensitive personal information. Unfettered access to troves of data that reveal private details of people’s lives, identities, and preferences only fuels dangerous algorithms designed to divide us all. Comprehensive consumer privacy legislation is an essential component of reigning in Big Tech’s power over American life.”
Maaike van Dorssen, Managing Board Member of Netherlands-based The London Story, noted, “Despite the progress of European data privacy laws, Big Tech remains able to use surveillance technologies to manipulate social and economic behaviours. In order to safeguard democracy and public debate in European Nations, the United States, and around the world, we urge governments to address algorithmic manipulation.”
José Alonso Muñoz, Deputy Communications Director of United We Dream, said, “Facebook has prioritized profit over the safety of its users, especially Black, brown and immigrant communities. Facebook’s algorithm continues to amplify disinformation, hate speech, and conspiracy theories. This harmful disinformation played an outsized role in the attack on our democracy on January 6, and has continued to embolden Republican-led legislatures across the country to attack the voting rights of Black, brown, and immigrant communities. The 1 million members of United We Dream know all too well the importance of finding community online, including on UWD’s pages on platforms like Facebook, which is why it is imperative for Congress to take action to impede Facebook’s continued misuse of our data. It’s time Congress ensures Facebook puts our safety over their profits.”
Fight for the Future is the organization behind the coalition site HowToStopFacebook.org, which more than 70 organizations have signed onto calling for strong federal data privacy protections.