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Whistleblower: Facebook "Chooses Profits Over Safety"; Major Oil Spill Off California Kills Wildlife, Shuts Down Beaches; Fauci: U.S. "Turning a Corner," But Too Early to Let Guard Down. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired October 04, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Here's what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

Speaking out. A Facebook whistleblower makes damning allegations against the social media giant. How she says they put profits over safety.

Environmental catastrophe. Over 100,000 gallons of crude oil spewing into the Pacific Ocean. Why it took so long to identify this disaster.

And a glimmer of hope in the fight against the pandemic. The summer surge is on the decline, but the threat far from over. Dr. Anthony Fauci joins me live ahead.

Thank you for being here, everyone.

AT THIS HOUR, we're following two developing stories. First, Facebook under intense scrutiny after a whistleblower comes forward leveling damning accusations against the social media giant. In a new interview with "60 Minutes," former product manager, Frances Haugen, claims Facebook knows that its platforms are used to spread hate, violence, and misinformation, (AUDIO GAP) very much less than advertised to stop it.

Haugen who has released tens of thousands of pages of internal company research to Congress and the SEC says Facebook knowingly chooses profits over safety.


FRANCES HAUGEN, FACEBOOK WHISTLEBLOWER: The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interests like making more money. Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they'll click on less ads, they'll make less money.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: She will be testifying tomorrow before a Senate committee about all of this. And Facebook is trying its best at damage control in the face of this.

The other major story that we're following -- the race to contain a major oil spill off the coast of southern California. More than 100,000 gallons of oil have spilled into the ocean near Orange County, killing wildlife, shutting down beaches, creating what a local official calls an environmental catastrophe today. More on that in a moment.

But let us begin with the Facebook whistleblower. Joining me now, CNN's Brian Stelter and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Brian, how damning is the information that's been brought forward?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Well, there have been other whistleblowers, former employees speaking out against Facebook, but never as starkly as this, never as bluntly as this. I've never seen a staffer come forward with so many documents, so much backup for her allegations, and not only does she have these documents, she's filed complaints with the SEC trying to get the financial regulators involved because she claims that what the company says in public is contradicted by what it's learning in private.

I think, Kate, this is a story that is about the entire world and how the world is being affected by social media. We're talking about countries like Spain and Myanmar where there are conflicts that are accelerated and intensified by the use of Facebook. And here is Frances Haugen saying, I saw it firsthand, how I saw how these platforms were making bad situations worse, creating a vicious cycle of more and more polarization and hate around the world.

We see it far away, and we saw it on January 6th in Washington. She points a finger at Facebook for contributing to the conditions that caused the insurrection, as well. Facebook can reject her complaints, they can say they're trying to clean up the platform, but this is incredibly damning for the company.

BOLDUAN: I want to get to the January 6th allegation in just one second. Jeffrey, as Brian was pointing out, she's filed multiple complaints with the SEC over this. And according to her attorney, they're comparing internal research to the company's public face on what they say they're doing and have been doing.

I want to also play for you what Haugen says about wanting Congress to act, as well. Listen.


HAUGEN: Facebook has demonstrated they cannot act independently. Facebook over and over again has shown it chooses profit over safety. It is subsidizing, it is paying for its profits with our safety.


BOLDUAN: From a legal perspective, Jeffrey, what could you see here?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think this story illustrates more than anything the limits of the legal system. I am not sure that a lot of this behavior even if it's exactly as Miss Haugen says it is, is something that the legal system can address. I don't know that the SEC polices these kinds of statements. That's not usually the kind of enforcement action that the SEC takes.


And when it comes to inspiring the January 6th riots or helping authoritarian governments in Myanmar and elsewhere, that's not something that the laws really address at this point. That's why I think the real threat to Facebook here is Congress changing the law. And there is some movement in that direction, but those laws have not changed yet, and I think, you know, Facebook faces reputational damage, it faces criticism. But I don't see major legal problems coming out of this at least not yet.

BOLDUAN: And, Brian, you had one top Facebook official on your show yesterday for an extensive interview on this point of contention, but an important moment in regard to Facebook's role if any leading up to the January 6th insurrection. I want to play what Nick Clegg told you.


NICK CLEGG, VICE PRESIDENT OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS, FACEBOOK: I think it would be too easy surely to suggest that with a tweak to an algorithm somehow all the disfiguring polarization in U.S. politics would evaporate. I think it absolves people of asking themselves the harder questions about the historical, cultural, social and economic reasons that have led to the politics that we have in the U.S. today.


BOLDUAN: But, Brian, is he really getting to the point here? Because no one's suggesting Facebook is the only problem. But the fact that they still try to pretend they don't amplify the problem -- what did you take from your conversation with him?

STELTER: Right. To borrow from Billy Joel, they're saying we didn't start the fire. But it's a gasoline salesman. They're also selling wood for the fire, heck, selling s'mores that you can roast on top of the fire.

Facebook is providing all of these accelerants and claiming it's a good time. They're claiming people have a fun time on the platform and that's why we log in every day. To some extent, there is some truth. There are people that get a lot of benefits out of Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp and all the rest. The research shows the downsides, the damage, the harm that's being caused, and that research needs to be exposed. We need to see more of it.

Facebook has proven that when they want to, they can turn the volume down. They can bring down some of the heat in this country and elsewhere. But they keep choosing to raise the volume. They keep choosing to pour more gasoline on. That's why this hearing will be important, Kate, why the whistleblower may not be the last to come forward this year.

BOLDUAN: Here's the thing we've seen over and over again, Jeffrey, is one member Congress doesn't understand media and don't know how to regulate it. There are famous examples, especially with Facebook. Orrin Hatch in 2018 comes to mind to remind folks, watch this --


THEN-SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): How do you sustain a business model in which users don't pay for your service?



BOLDUAN: I mean, Jeffrey, what's it going to take to get smart on this? From -- from DOJ to Congress?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, if there were an obvious answer, we would have found it by now. You know, every law that regulates Facebook was written before Facebook was the power that it is today.

STELTER: Great point.

TOOBIN: So, it has never -- these laws don't address the power of Facebook. And it is true that Democrats and Republicans, this is one area where there is actual agreement about at least in a general way about the power of -- of Facebook and social media and the damage that can -- that in some cases have been inflicted.

But there is not at this moment, certainly not that I'm aware of, some magic bullet, some proposal that you can change the law that will eliminate the problematic aspects of Facebook. It's -- it's not like there's some obvious solution there that Congress is failing to reach. People just don't know how to do it at this point I think.

BOLDUAN: Needs continued focus as we're going to see all of this week especially on Capitol Hill. Good to see you both. Thank you.

Let's get to our other top story now. A massive oil spill off the coast of southern California. More than 100,000 gallons of oil have spilled into the Pacific ocean near orange county killing wildlife, threatening important wetlands, and closing beaches possibly for months.

CNN's Natasha Chen is live in Huntington Beach, California, keeping an eye on this.

Natasha, what are you seeing there now?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it is really important right now for people to stay away from the water. It is not safe. And part of that right now we're seeing is the California department of fish and wildlife has declared the fisheries closed in this area by a set number of beaches here because of the spill area.

So that means that people shouldn't be fishing in the water. They shouldn't be consuming fish that may have been affected by the spill because we have also heard reports now of wildlife washing up with oil on them. That's currently being addressed by groups here working together and trying to rescue some animals, trying to lay boom out there to keep the oil away from the wetlands as much as possible, though damage has already been done.


We do have a drone up to show you a little bit aerial views of what is going on here. We've seen boats yesterday dragging a boom to try to collect as much oil as possible. There's been some collected now, but it's really a small amount compared to the total potential spill amount of more than 120,000 gallons.

We did just speak with the Huntington Beach mayor. She talked about, you know, growing up here and how devastating this is for a community especially that is very environmentally conscious.


MAYOR KIM CARR, HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA: For me personally, this is a really rough one. I am a beach person, grew up in the beach, am from this area, and so to see this happening in my backyard, it's devastating. But I also know that the -- we're going to do everything that we can to make this even better than it was before.


CHEN: And the spill happened about 4.5 miles offshore, and there are still efforts being made right now to identify the exact source of where that leak happened, how this happened.

So in addition to the cleanup, there are divers down there trying to identify how this problem started and we'll still be asking questions throughout the day.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Natasha, thank you very much.

Joining me right now for more is Brad Avery. He's mayor of Newport Beach, California, which is in Orange County. Actually saw Newport on that map that we were showing you during Natasha's live shot.

Mayor, thank you for being here.

I read that you were actually out on your own boat on Saturday morning and you saw an oil slick. Did you have any sense then of how bad this was going to be?

MAYOR BRAD AVERY, NEWPORT BEACH, CA: Well, not really. I was coming back from Catalina with my family after a weekend. We were headed toward the air show at Huntington Beach to see a little bit of that, and in the morning I heard chatter on VHF, a marine radio, and people were seeing oil in the ocean. It was sort of a random bunch of calls. And I thought they were just maybe saw a ship maybe discharge a little bit of oil.

And then as we approached about five miles off -- we were going through -- going along, and there was some dolphin on our bow, and it was beautiful. We went into this patch of oil that was, you know, very extensive and pretty thick. And it was shocking.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, how do you describe what's being done right now to contain this -- and mayor, how long do you think this will take to clean up?

AVERY: Oh, I couldn't -- I couldn't guess on that. It's a very large area, lot has to do with the current. And so it's -- it's difficult to give a timeline. I think all the agencies agree on that. We're working every day, all the agencies coordinated to do what we can to mitigate this and protect the public, protect wildlife.

The spill is continuing to spread southeast down the coast. So, it's sort of bypassing us. It could change, but for now our -- we haven't gotten much oil on the beach beyond what little there was a couple days ago at the north end of town. So it's still a working situation. Yesterday we had at least ten oil response vessels from different agencies out there trying to boom, boom around it and clean up the oil at sea.

BOLDUAN: The mayor of Huntington Beach was describing to my colleague how devastating that this is and can be. What's your biggest concern right now?

AVERY: Well, it's just hoping that we can -- it stays off shore and that we can -- the boats can do the work to try and contain it and to get it dispersed, collected, all the work that goes into working a large spill like this. And it -- it's a big ask because it's a huge area, and it's -- it moves around. So it's just continuous work.

One thing that's been in our favor is very fair weather, flat seas, light winds. I think that's really helping us. And the south current is taking it toward Laguna Beach, Dana Point. Still off shore, it's not going on the beaches right now I believe. So it's a continuing, evolving situation.

BOLDUAN: Sure is. The "Los Angeles Times" is reporting today that the platform company Amplify Energy emerged from bankruptcy just four years ago, and the way that the "Los Angeles Times" puts it, amassed a long record of federal noncompliance incidents and violations. Has this pipeline company been on your radar before this?

AVERY: No. You know, it hasn't. And we -- we had two oil wells off shore, Huntington Beach, for many, many years, since the '60s.


And then these oil wells where the company is were placed further offshore, about seven miles. And they -- they've been operating out there, we haven't had any issues until now. But you know, this is part and parcel to oil wells being installed off shore. It's likely over the long term there's going to be some spills. That's sort of the nature of it, the nature of same thing that happened in Santa Barbara with their oil rigs. You know, they've had some big spills. So, years ago.

BOLDUAN: Mayor, thank you very much for your time. We'll be checking back in.

AVERY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, are we finally turning a corner on the summer surge of this pandemic? Dr. Anthony Fauci joins me next.



BOLDUAN: Encouraging signs on the pandemic right now. The seven-day average of new cases is down 22 percent in the last month. Hospitalizations are also down 28 percent in the same time. That is good news.

The number of people dying from coronavirus, though, remains around 2,000 deaths a day.

Joining me now with the state of things is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Biden.

Dr. Fauci, thanks for being here.

When you said this weekend that we are turning the corner, where are we turning the corner to? Living with COVID or being completely rid of COVID-19?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Look, Kate, I don't think we're going to be at least in the near future completely rid of COVID-19 for a number of reasons. One, the fact is we still have a rather substantial number, 70 million people, who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not vaccinated in this country.

But then there's the rest of world. As long as you have circulating virus in those other countries, many countries that don't have the resources that we do, then you have the danger of there being new variants that will come in. That's one of the reasons why we say and it's appropriate to say that the response to a global pandemic is a global response. Not only within our own country -- and we are working to get a lot of doses, many, many doses, literally hundreds of millions of doses, more than a billion, to other countries, particularly low and middle income countries.

But in direct answer to your question, we are seeing a turnaround as you mentioned correctly, diminution in cases, diminution in hospitalization. Deaths are still up, but that is usually a lagging indicator. And I fully expect if we keep going in the direction of a diminution in hospitalization and cases that the deaths will start coming down. Having said that, not to diminish that that's good, positive news, is

that we still have so many people who are not vaccinated that we'd better be careful that we don't say we're out of the woods, because we might not be out of the woods in the sense of no more COVID around at all. You know, I also said something over the weekend that was taken completely out of context. I was asked, what could we predict for this winter for like December and Christmas?

BOLDUAN: I was going to ask you.

FAUCI: Yeah. I mean, I say you hold off on that, I said we don't know because we've seen slopes that went down and then came back up. The best way to assure that we'll be in good shape as we get into the winter would be to get more and more people vaccinated.

That was misinterpreted as my saying we can't spend Christmas with our families, which was absolutely not the case. I will be spending Christmas with my family. I encourage people, particularly the vaccinated people who are protected, to have a good, normal Christmas with your family.

But it just -- the way all of the other disinformation goes around, you say something talking about a landmark of a time, and it gets misinterpreted that I'm saying you can't spend family Christmas time which is nonsense. You can.

BOLDUAN: And your point is, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that it's -- when you're in a pandemic, it is very hard to predict two months out still.

FAUCI: That was, Kate, my absolute point in response to the question that was asked of me, exactly as you said. I was asked to predict what the state of the pandemic would be when we get to December. And my response was, that's really dependent on us. It's difficult to predict.

But the one thing we do have within our power to do is to make sure that there are less and less cases, and that diminishing slope that's going down continues to go down, and the way we can do that is by getting more and more people vaccinated. That was the point that I was making. Not that you're not going to be able to spend Christmas with your family. I certainly am. That's for sure.

BOLDUAN: On vaccines, evidence out of New York is that mandates are working. New York City's mayor said this morning that 96 percent of teachers are now vaccinated. Thousands getting the shot in just recent days because of the requirement in schools is taking effect today.

Have you seen enough, Dr. Fauci, enough evidence, if you will, to say it's time to -- forget about incentives, and mandates are the only way to get this done?


FAUCI: Kate, I think we need to do both. I'm sensitive and aware to the reasons people push back on mandates. It's an unusual thing. It's not something that you're going to want to keep doing, telling people what to do. But there comes a time when you're dealing with an unusual and likely very, very unique situation of living through a historic pandemic. Sometimes you have to do things that look more toward the societal impact than your own individual feeling about somebody telling you what to do or not.

So, I think we need to use incentives, but as you've just said correctly, mandates do work. And sometimes people just need a little bit of a push to do something for their own benefit for that of their family, but also for the benefit of society. So we'd like to not have to do mandates at the local level with schools, universities, places of business, government, et cetera. But sometimes you have to do that.

BOLDUAN: The data on younger kids shows that they're slow to get the shot still. Just over 44 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds so far. And when you look at the polling looking ahead, parents are evenly split on if they plan to get 5 to 11-year-olds vaccinated when and if that is authorized. What's the solution to this?

FAUCI: Well, I think we need to continue to try and get trusted messengers to give the reasons, the rationale why it is important to get children vaccinated.

I think we have underestimated the impact on children. The facts are that you're right, those who say for the most part from a pure probability standpoint, children are less likely to have a severe outcome compared to the elderly, as compared to adults. That is true.

However, on the other side of the coin, look at the pediatric hospitals throughout the country, and you can ask any pediatric hospitalist if they're seeing a lot of children in the hospital with severe infection. So although relatively speaking for the rest of the epidemic it's a lesser proportion.

The fact is it still can have a serious impact on children, not to mention the issue of long COVID which is that peculiar type of persistence of symptomatology after you so-called recover from the infection. Again not to mention the fact that children who get infected, even those who do not get any symptoms, do not get any severe outcome, certainly can transmit it to others. And others may be people who would get a severe outcome.

So there's a lot of reasons that people may not have really assimilated in their mind why it's important to do that, but there are very good reasons to do that.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Fauci, thank you for coming on.

FAUCI: Good to be with you, Kate. Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, Chuck Schumer is tightening the screws to try to get Republicans to go along with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling as, let's be honest, they've all done many times before. What Schumer is vowing to do if they do not, next.