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Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) talk with Frances Haugen before hearing. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen told lawmakers Tuesday she believes the social media giant won't change its ways unless Congress makes it.

Why it matters: Haugen is finding a receptive audience among senators who have pledged to pass laws on online privacy, altering online liability shields and increasing algorithmic transparency.

Driving the news: The former product manager told the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee that Facebook has focused on scale over safety to the point that it can't retain employees.

  • "Facebook is stuck in a cycle where it struggles to hire, that causes it to understaff projects, which causes scandals, which then makes it harder to hire," Haugen told lawmakers.
  • The company knows its algorithms can lead teens to pro-anorexia content and boost extreme content more likely to elicit a reaction from users, Haugen said.

Haugen called for:

  • greater transparency into how Facebook operates;
  • the establishment of an effective oversight agency;
  • and interventions by the company to reduce the spread of misinformation, including requiring users to clink on a link before re-sharing it.

"Facebook can change, but it's clearly not going to do so on its own," Haugen said. "My fear is that without action, divisive and extremist behaviors we see today are only the beginning."

The other side: Following the hearing, Facebook questioned Haugen's experience, noting she worked for the company less than two years, "had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives — and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question."

  • "We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about," Lena Pietsch, director of policy communications, said in the statement.
  • "Despite all this, we agree on one thing: it’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet. It’s been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act.”

What they're saying: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who leads the subcommittee, called for the Securities & Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Haugen's revelations.

  • A bipartisan group of lawmakers, who have been stalled on tech legislation, promised action.
  • "There was such bipartisan support today in the committee, I think it augurs well for actually getting across the finish line," Blumenthal told reporters during a press conference following the hearing. "(Haugen) has been a critical catalyst in this effort."

What's next: Blumenthal said he wants CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the committee.

  • "There are a lot of questions for Mark Zuckerberg, like why he rejected all of these seemingly worthwhile recommendations in the reports and research," Blumenthal said. "There are a lot of questions — new questions and old questions that have stronger relevance now and urgency that we would want to ask him."

Editors note: This story has been updated with a comment from Facebook and additional comments from Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

Go deeper

Marjorie Taylor Greene suspended from Facebook for 24 hours

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene at the U.S. Capitol in June. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Twitter permanently suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's personal account on Sunday, for "repeated violations" of the platform's COVID misinformation policy.

Why it matters: The Georgia Republican is an outspoken critic of coronavirus-related mitigation measures and has posted a slew of false and misleading tweets concerning the virus throughout the pandemic.

  • Greene's Twitter account had previously been suspended in July for publishing incorrect information on COVID vaccinations and wearing face masks during the pandemic.
  • Twitter utilizes a strike system to gauge consequences when a user violates the misinformation policy, with five or more strikes resulting in permanent suspension.

Of note: While Greene primarily uses her personal account (@mtgreenee), she does retain access to her official congressional account (@RepMTG).

The latest: Greene on Monday said her Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours, posting a screenshot of a message from Facebook on the alternative media site Telegram, per the New York Times.

  • Facebook confirmed in a statement they removed a post for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, but did not answer questions from Axios on if they suspended her account.
  • "A post violated our policies and we have removed it," Facebook spokesperson Aaron Simpson said in a statement. Removing "her account for this violation is beyond the scope of our policies."
  • Greene did not respond to Axios requests for comment on recent actions by Facebook and Twitter.

What they're saying: "We permanently suspended the account ... for repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policy," Twitter said in an emailed statement to Axios.

  • "We've been clear that, per our strike system for this policy, we will permanently suspend accounts for repeated violations," it continued.

"Diversity of opinion is the lifeblood of our democracy," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement Monday panning Twitter's decision without mentioning Taylor Greene. "It is clear any speech that does not fit Big Tech's orthodoxy gets muzzled."

  • "The American experiment is dependent on the freedom and ability of Americans to express themselves, which Republicans are fighting to preserve."

The backdrop: Twitter announced that it was escalating enforcement action on pandemic misinformation over repeated violations of its policy last year, including a 12-hour suspension.

  • Some conservative lawmakers and media figures have complained that Big Tech companies intentionally censor their viewpoints and use this argument in their push for regulation.

Editor's note: This piece was updated to clarify that Greene said on Telegram that her Facebook account was suspended and that Facebook did not respond to Axios' requests for comment.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker