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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A whistleblower's sharp testimony — following hard on the heels of a massive global service outage — has raised hopes among Facebook's many critics on the Hill and in the industry that Congress will place new restraints on the company.

The big picture: The outage showed how dependent on Facebook the world has become. The whistleblower showed how the company's own research documents its harms and outlined ways lawmakers could limit them.

Why it matters: This crisis could be Facebook's worst yet, catalyzing a deadlocked Congress to act.

The whistleblower: Former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen uncloaked herself Sunday as the source for the Wall Street Journal's "Facebook Files" series.

  • Those articles exposed internal Facebook reports Haugen took from the company, suggesting it knew about and failed to move against a variety of problems in its services.
  • "Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy," Haugen testified Tuesday. "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."

The hearing: At the Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, Haugen and senators from both parties zeroed in on legislative ideas.

  • The whistleblower urged lawmakers to modify Section 230, which protects websites from liability for content posted by their users, by "exempting decisions about algorithms."
  • She urged the creation of a new federal oversight body to regulate tech firms.
  •  Lawmakers also discussed the need for online privacy legislation, greater protection for children online, and improving transparency into how Facebook's algorithms work.

The company: Facebook, too, has long voiced support for revising Section 230 and updating tech regulations. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a lengthy post Tuesday evening addressed to employees, took strong issue with the new wave of criticism.

  • "The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical," Zuckerberg wrote. "We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don't want their ads next to harmful or angry content. And I don't know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed."

The outage: The massive technical snafu that took down all of Facebook's services for several hours Monday also reminded its three billion customers — particularly beyond the U.S. — how synonymous Facebook and "the internet" have become for so many.

Between the lines: Facebook is happy to spotlight, in Zuckerberg's words, "the real impact we have on the world — the people who can now stay in touch with their loved ones, create opportunities to support themselves, and find community."

  • At the same time, the company is fending off antitrust lawsuits by arguing that it's less dominant than its critics charge and has tons of competitors.

Our thought bubble: The internet was built as a resilient, decentralized network, but Facebook, the outage showed, has become a single point of failure.

One solution that Congress is unlikely to adopt, but that might get discussed more widely after this week: Start regulating Facebook and other tech giants as public utilities — vital infrastructure that the government has an obligation to keep safe, fair and healthy.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to state that Haugen's title was product manager (not project manager).

Go deeper

For CEOs, social media has lost its fun

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

CEO Jack Dorsey's departure from Twitter shows that, in Silicon Valley today, social media is becoming a field to flee.

Why it matters: Coming on the heels of Facebook's name change and new metaverse focus, Dorsey's resignation is another sign that the industry now views the massive social networks it built over the last two decades as buggy "legacy applications" mired in annoying social problems.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Prosecutors charge parents of Michigan school shooting suspect

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students and wounding seven other people at a Michigan high school have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to court documents.

The latest: Lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley told the Detroit News they are "returning to the area to be arraigned," after law enforcement officials announced a search for the Crumbleys had been initiated.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus variant surveillance varies widely by state — Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate — Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come.
  4. World: WHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming — Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

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