Lawmakers set sights on Facebook’s algorithms

US lawmakers are investigating Facebook and other online platforms, and considering new rules for artificial intelligence programs blamed for spreading malicious content.

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October 27, 2021 - 9:14 AM

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing entitled "Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from a Facebook Whistleblower" on Capitol Hill, Oct. 5, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Haugen left Facebook in May and provided internal company documents about Facebook to journalists and others, alleging that Facebook consistently chooses profit over safety. (Drew Angerer/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)

U.S. lawmakers investigating how Facebook Inc. and other online platforms shape users’ worldviews are considering new rules for the artificial intelligence programs blamed for spreading malicious content. 

This legislative push is taking on more urgency since a whistleblower revealed thousands of pages of internal documents revealing how Facebook employees knew that the company’s algorithms prioritizing growth and engagement were driving people to more divisive and harmful content. 

Every automated action on the internet — from ranking content and displaying search results to offering recommendations or showing ads — is controlled by computer code written by engineers. Some of these algorithms take simple inputs like words or video quality to show certain outputs, while others use artificial intelligence to learn more about people and user-generated content, resulting in more sophisticated sorting. 

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