News brief: Facebook hearing, California oil leak, French Catholic Church abuse
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
How could action by Congress bring changes to Facebook?
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Former employee Frances Haugen told her story before a Senate committee yesterday. As we have heard all week, she left the company with documents showing Facebook's internal concerns about their product.
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FRANCES HAUGEN: The choices being made inside of Facebook are disastrous for our children, for our public safety, for our privacy and for our democracy, and that is why we must demand Facebook make changes.
MARTIN: Now, Facebook has rejected Haugen's portrayal.
INSKEEP: NPR's Shannon Bond covers Facebook, which is among NPR's financial supporters. We cover it the same as any company. Shannon, good morning.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what's the basic problem as Haugen sees it?
BOND: Well, she says it's that Facebook makes choices in the pursuit of growth, even when that risks harming its own users.
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HAUGEN: It is about Facebook choosing to grow at all costs, becoming an almost trillion-dollar company by buying its profits with our safety.
BOND: You know, Steve, we've heard from Facebook critics before. What makes Haugen different is that she came armed with inside knowledge and this huge trove of internal research, including troubling findings about things like how Instagram exacerbates problems like depression and eating disorders for some teens. And then she used these documents to make the case it's time to regulate Facebook as a matter of public safety. She compared it to Big Tobacco, which is something the senators really leapt on.
INSKEEP: So on a day-to-day basis, what causes these bad decisions inside the company as she would see them?
BOND: Well, Haugen really focused in on Facebook's engagement-based algorithms. That's her area of expertise. You know, the way this works on Facebook and Instagram, if a post gets comments, likes, other interactions, it's spread more widely; it's featured more prominently. The idea is that will keep people interested in using the apps. But Haugen cited Facebook's own research showing that focusing on engagement also amps up the most sensational and extreme posts. So for example, people looking for healthy recipes might start seeing posts encouraging anorexia. She says this is even fueling ethnic violence around the world. And Haugen says Facebook needs to be pressured to fix this.
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HAUGEN: They have 100% control over their algorithms, and Facebook should not get a free pass on choices it makes to prioritize growth and virality and reactiveness over public safety.
INSKEEP: OK. So she's talking about regulation. Senators are talking about regulation. Facebook executives said the other day they've been in favor of regulation for quite some time. What might action from Congress actually look like, though?
BOND: Well, senators asked Haugen what they should do. And she says, you know, they should focus in on these algorithms and holding the company responsible for their impacts. She also says they should demand more transparency from the company, create a dedicated agency to oversee Big Tech. And we did hear lawmakers on both sides united in talking about some of this, including strengthening existing privacy protections for kids. The question is, does any of this actually move forward?
INSKEEP: How's Facebook responding?
BOND: Well, hours after the hearing, we finally heard from Mark Zuckerberg, who's not spoken about this publicly until now. In an email to staff also posted on his Facebook page, he said many of Haugen's claims didn't make sense. He says he didn't recognize this, quote, "false picture" of the company being painted. And he repeated these calls for regulation. And I should say during the hearing, a spokesman was trying to play down Haugen's role, saying she didn't work directly on some of these issues.
INSKEEP: Shannon, thanks so much.
BOND: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Shannon Bond.
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INSKEEP: Some other news now - a broken pipeline off California's coast spewed more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean.
MARTIN: Yeah. Video from divers shows a roughly 4,000-foot section of the pipeline that's been damaged and shifted along the ocean floor. The ecological effects of this are already impacting Southern California beaches, and the federal investigation is ongoing.
INSKEEP: Yeah, wow. What happened there? That's a question for NPR environment correspondent Nate Rott. Good morning.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: How does an oil pipeline that's been laid across the ocean floor move across the ocean floor?
ROTT: Well, that is a question that a whole lot of people are waiting for an answer to right now. Obviously, it's not something that would have happened naturally. You know, there was no seismic activity or weather that would have caused it. You know - and while the pipeline and the offshore oil platform it's connected to are both old, you know, it's not common for a section of 16-inch steel pipe covered in concrete to move by more than 100 feet, you know, as the divers say this one did. To give you a visual, the president of the pipeline operator kind of described it almost looking like a bow string.
ROTT: They also saw a 13-inch gash along the length of the pipe, which is where the oil likely leaked from. There's been some speculation that a ship may have dropped anchor in the wrong spot and caught the pipeline, causing it to move. This is a really busy part of the Southern California coast, where you almost always see the horizon dotted with large container ships moving to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. You know, but the U.S. Coast Guard, other officials have not confirmed whether or not an anchor was the cause at this point.
INSKEEP: Yeah. And of course, these things can change as more facts come in. But we have this question about whether that happened. And whatever happened, when did it happen?
ROTT: Yeah. So people first started smelling the oil spill on Friday afternoon last week. The Coast Guard says it received a report about a sheen in the water that evening, but they were not able to confirm it. Here's Rebecca Orr, the commander of the Coast Guard for this area.
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REBECCA ORR: It took about two hours on Saturday morning where we began to detect oil in the water. And at that point, we also diverted a Coast Guard aircraft to begin to assess that situation. And that is when a full-scale mobilization effort began.
ROTT: So the oil slick was clear from the air and the surface of the water. You know, boaters were reporting going through it, seeing dolphins swim through it. You know, by Sunday, oil started washing up on shores near Huntington Beach, which polluted beaches, marshes and at least one wetland there.
INSKEEP: Wow. How do you measure the scale of the damage?
ROTT: You know, it's not good. Initial reports were that, you know, roughly 125,000 gallons of crude oil spilled, but it's since been raised to potentially 144,000 gallons. You know, while that pales in comparison to, say, the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill further up the California coast, which spewed an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, it's still, you know, really not good. Oil can gum up a bird's feathers, making it so they can't fly or regulate their temperature. It can kill fish, dolphins, whales. And it can really harm species when it gets into those marshes or wetlands, which are already really rare in this - you know, the urban sprawl that is Southern California. And that's already happened. Here's Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley, who visited one of the areas that's been impacted.
KATRINA FOLEY: It was very terrible smelling. There were little birds walking around on the oil and just oil everywhere. So I'm worried that the damage to the wetlands is pretty significant and will be long-lasting.
ROTT: You know, and that not only could have an impact on the ecology there, the endangered species, but also the business and tourism community, which rely on visitors to these beaches to make their money each year.
INSKEEP: Nate, thanks so much.
ROTT: Yep. Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR environment correspondent Nate Rott.
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INSKEEP: A report has found that as many as 330,000 children, maybe more, were victims of sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church.
MARTIN: The independent report was commissioned by French bishops. It estimates as many as 3,000 priests and other church workers committed the abuse over a span of 70 years.
INSKEEP: So 3,000 offenders, more than 300,000 victims - and for more on this, we're joined by NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who's in Paris. Hi there, Eleanor.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, guys.
INSKEEP: What does the report say about the people who are represented by those numbers?
BEARDSLEY: Well, the victims are mostly prepubescent children 11-, 12-year-olds from all strata of society. The majority of the abused were boys. The numbers, Steve, are completely beyond anyone's imagination. They're staggering, and this report has hit the church and French society like a bomb. And here's what journalist Xavier Le Normand - he works for a well-respected, independent Catholic newspaper La Croix. Here's what he said it means.
XAVIER LE NORMAND: The figures are much worse than we thought - and also that sex abuse is more common in the Catholic Church than in other institutions like schools or sports clubs, so the Catholic Church is a problem by itself.
BEARDSLEY: So the church is a problem. And this 2,500-page report looked at the church culture that permitted and enabled that abuse. And it said one of the problems is excessive glorification and empowerment of priests, their elevation as these sacred figures. And it said their celibacy is also treated as a sort of heroism, and they have ample access to children. But it also said that priests need more from the church and that their emotional and effective lives need to be taken into account.
INSKEEP: Eleanor, every time there is another gigantic revelation like this in the Catholic Church, I guess I shouldn't say that I'm surprised, but it is amazing that after all these decades of revelations, there are still more revelations. Why did this one take so long in France?
BEARDSLEY: Yeah, that's true, Steve. Well, France is a hugely traditionally Catholic country, often referred to as the eldest daughter in the Catholic Church. You know, experts have told me that there's been a sort of omerta, a silence surrounding abuse in France, a lid on it all. There were revelations in France in the early aughts, like in the U.S., and then it sort of died back down, and the lid was put back on. What blew it off was the 2019 conviction of a prominent cardinal in Lyon, Philippe Barbarin, for hiding a predatory pedophile priest. And that's when the first victims organizations were formed. And, you know, they were very vocal, got a lot of media attention, and that changed everything for good.
INSKEEP: What are you hearing from the victims and others that gives a sense of the human cost here?
BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, this morning, the head of that commission, the 22-member commission, Jean-Marc Sauve, went on the radio, and he spoke about the whole 2 1/2 year experience of delving through the church and press and police archives and hearing the harrowing stories of the victims, not as experts, he said, but as human beings. Here he is this morning.
JEAN-MARC SAUVE: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: And so he said it was so overwhelming, Steve, that they needed psychiatric help afterwards. And during the interview, a listener called in and said, thank you - a victim who had not come forward - and said, thank you for what you've done; for the first time, I don't feel alone.
INSKEEP: What reforms are likely to come out of this? What compensation is likely to come?
BEARDSLEY: Well, the report gave 45 recommendations. And one is financial reparations, but that clearly won't do it all. It said, you know, the future of the church may depend on how it takes this going forward. It cannot look at this as an end to the past, but as a real wake-up call for the future. The French Catholic Church has to reform completely.
INSKEEP: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks so much.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.