According to a report from the New York Times, a disgruntled former Facebook executive who walked away from the tech giant in October has been meeting with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and providing them with a roadmap that will allow them to expose how the company makes money at the expense of the American public.
As the Times' Ben Smith reports, Brandon Silverman sold his start-up CrowdTangle to Facebook back in 2016 and stayed on until last year before leaving after becoming an "irritant" to higher-ups due to his efforts on a project that tracked what content draws clicks on the platform.
With Smith writing the Silverman efforts would "emerge as perhaps the single most important window into what was actually happening on the megaplatform," he infuriated his superiors with evidence about "the extent to which Facebook users engaged with hyperpartisan right-wing politics and misleading health information."
Since cashing out and leaving the embattled company behind, the executive turned to Congress to help them get a handle on what is happening behind closed doors at the company that is now facing massive scrutiny since whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist for the company, spoke to lawmakers in a nationally televised hearing.
As the Times report, Silverman is meeting with "bipartisan group of U.S. senators on legislation that would, among other things, force the giant social media platforms to provide the sort of transparency that got him marginalized at Facebook."
In an interview with Smith, the former exec explained, "What’s happening right now, though, is that a few private companies are disseminating a massive amount of the world’s news and it’s largely happening inside black boxes. I think figuring out ways to both help and, in some cases, force, large platforms to be more transparent with news and civic content as it’s in the process of being disseminated can ultimately help make social platforms better homes for public discourse — and in a lot of ways, help them live up to a lot of their original promise.”
By way of explanation, the report adds, "Nathaniel Persily, the James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at Stanford University, who first suggested a version of the transparency legislation in October, said Mr. Silverman had been 'instrumental' in shaping the section of the legislation that would authorize the Federal Trade Commission to force platforms to disclose, in real time, what information is spreading on them. The provision is part of a bill more broadly aimed at letting academic researchers conduct independent studies into the inner workings of the platforms and their social effects. As written, the legislation would apply to Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Snap — and would probably, a Senate aide said, also extend to Amazon."
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