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Republicans Block Raise of Debt Ceiling; Oil Spill; Interview With Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA); Facebook Outage. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 05, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: We're talking Instagram, WhatsApp. They are all suffering from major outages. Users are unable to load new content or send messages.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Take a look at what our executive producer'S Instagram looks like right now. You see this?

BLACKWELL: Yes. Can you hold that up?




CAMEROTA: It's blank.

BLACKWELL: Yes, it's just a blank white screen.

CAMEROTA: It's a technical blackout that's happening right now, after those damning revelations from that former employee that you just saw a minute up on "60 Minutes" last night.

She accuses Facebook of intentionally allowing hateful content and misinformation to proliferate on the platform in order to make more profit. Facebook stock is looking at its worst day in a year.

It is down right now about 5.5 percent.

So let's bring in CNN Donie O'Sullivan.

Donie, let's focus on the outages. OK, do we know what's causing them? And is there any connection between that bombshell on "60 Minutes" last night, and now these outages?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN BUSINESS POLITICS AND TECHNOLOGY REPORTER: It's certainly a very busy and bad day for Facebook.

I want to show you a statement the company put out in the past hour. They're saying, we are aware that some people are having trouble accessing our apps and products. We're working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, and we apologize for any inconvenience. We should point out that that Facebook statement you will see there is

a tweet. They posted it on Twitter, because, of course, they can't post anything on Facebook or Instagram or WhatsApp at the moment for that matter.

This is pretty unusual, guys. I mean, we will often see Web sites, even very big Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, sometimes, YouTube, go down for a few minutes, a few seconds. But we are going into about the third hour of this. Now, I think was just before noon Eastern time here in the United States where we first started seeing these reports.

The short answer to the question is we don't know at the moment what has taken -- what has caused this. People are looking into it. But it certainly is very, very unusual for the site to be down that long.

And as you mentioned, this, of course, all coming a night, a day after Facebook whistle-blower went public on "60 Minutes" and the day before that whistle-blower is going to testify before Congress. So lots of plates spinning in Silicon Valley at Facebook's headquarters at the moment.

BLACKWELL: Yes, unfortunate day for Facebook, but it certainly sets up our conversation as we talk about the breadth of the users, the number of people who depend upon, rely upon these platforms. It's being driven home today.

Donie O'Sullivan, thanks so much.

More on that now, the revelations from the whistle-blower. Her name is Frances Haugen. She's a former Facebook product manager. And she is accusing the social media company of knowing that its platforms are used to spread hate and violence and misinformation, and then hiding internal research that proves that.

CAMEROTA: Before revealing her identity, Haugen filed at least eight complaints with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. And now she is revealing tens of thousands of documents that she says shows that Facebook intentionally tweaked its algorithm to allow toxic content to spread in order to make more money.


FRANCES HAUGEN, FORMER FACEBOOK PRODUCT MANAGER: Its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it's easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.

Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they will click on less ads, they will make less money. And as soon as the election was over, they turned them back off, or they changed the settings back to what they were before to prioritize growth over safety.

And that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter is here with us.

Brian, this is amazing. And I know you like it this weekend and we have been likening it on our program to the tobacco companies. It turns out people inside, whistle-blowers say they know it's harmful to its users, they know that the content is inflammatory and toxic, and yet that's their business model.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Right, addictive like cigarettes. But at least the tobacco companies didn't pose a threat to democracy.

And that's why I'm glad the whistle-blower is using that word democracy, saying she feels like what Facebook was doing after the 2020 election, as Trump was spreading big lies and inciting a riot, that it was a betrayal of democracy.

This is fundamentally about what these platforms are doing to rewire our minds and rewire our politics. We know polarization is getting worse and worse in the U.S. Interestingly, though, it's on the decline in some other countries where Facebook is available. So we have got a real unique problem in the United States, where we see these platforms creating a vicious cycle, creating more and more poisonous politics.

And I think Facebook wants to admit to a little bit of that, and doesn't want to take full responsibility. And this whistle-blower is challenging the company to really take responsibility.

But look at what the company said last night after the big "60 Minutes" interview aired. Here's a part of the company's statement, trying to put on a positive face, saying: "Every day, our teams have to balance protecting the ability of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place. We continue to make significant improvements to tackle the spread of misinformation and harmful content. And to suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true."


So the Facebook argument essentially is, you know, we're all funded by advertisers. Facebook takes in money from advertisers. Advertisers don't want to be connected to hate speech and nasty content, so thus it's not in our interest to have that on the platform.

I think the reality is so much more complicated. Every user's experience on Instagram, on Facebook, on WhatsApp is different. It's private. I don't know what your feed looks like. You don't know what mine looks like. People are having very different experiences on Facebook, and many of them are toxic and negative.

BLACKWELL: Yes, that statement from Facebook, where they say to suggest that we do nothing is just not true, and maybe that is not true that they do nothing, but when you compare what they actually do to the size of the problem, the size of what did they face, how do they rack up? STELTER: Yes.

Right. Then we're still talking about tens of millions of people. So for example, Nick Clegg, the top executive spokesman person at Facebook, made the argument to me over the weekend that Facebook's done a great job cracking down on hate speech, and it's been so minimized on the platform down to the 1-something-point percent or something.

But that still involves millions of users, because the platforms are so large, because they operate around the world. And this outage right now today is an example of how this company is monstrously large. Two- and-a-half-hours to have Facebook and WhatsApp down is shocking, probably the biggest outage in the company's history.

People are looking at their phones and wondering if it's just them. No, it's not you. It's happening seems like in much of the world, so it's actually reinforcing the idea that people feel addicted to these products. When Instagram is down for hours, people feel that tug. They want to get back on and refresh and scroll some more.

And I think, in a really weird way, yes, I'm sure it's a coincidence it's happening today. We don't know why the outage is happening, but it's reinforcing some of the whistle-blower's points.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but isn't it also good for everybody to have to detox?


STELTER: Oh, you like it. You're taking this as a break? You like it?


BLACKWELL: A two-and-a-half-hour detox.

STELTER: Oh, see, I'm feeling a little bit of that addictive tug. So...

CAMEROTA: Well, take note.


BLACKWELL: All right, Brian Stelter, thank you.

STELTER: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: So this whistle-blower also gave more details about an internal study on the Facebook-owned app Instagram, and the body image issues that it creates for young women and girls.


QUESTION: One study says 13.5 percent of teen girls say Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse; 17 percent of teen girls say Instagram makes eating disorders worse. HAUGEN: And what's super tragic is, Facebook's own research says, as

these young women begin to consume this eating disorder content, they get more and more depressed. And it actually makes them use the app more.

And so they end up in this feedback cycle where they hate their bodies more and more. Facebook's own research says it is not just that Instagram is dangerous for teenagers, that it harms teenagers. It is that is distinctly worse than other forms of social media.


CAMEROTA: All right, with me now is Congresswoman Lori Trahan. She is a Democrat from Massachusetts who is co-sponsoring legislation aimed at protecting children online.

Congresswoman, thank you for being with me.

And you're the right guest to have on this conversation, because you're obviously a member of Congress. But you also have some tech industry experience working with the company that actually dealt with advertising online as well.

So, when you hear what we learned from Ms. Haugen, this whistle- blower, and contrast that with what Facebook has been telling its users, Congress, all of us for years, your reaction is what?

REP. LORI TRAHAN (D-MA): Well, thank you for having me, Victor and Alisyn.

Yes, my reaction, I'm not surprised. We know that Facebook has had this information for years that. They have chose to do nothing. Not only am I a legislator and a former tech executive, but I'm also the mom of two young girls 7 and 11 years old.

And so I know that their algorithms are basically dialed to engagement and profit at the expense of everything else, whether it's our safety, our democracy, certainly to our young girls' mental health. So I applaud Frances Haugen for surfacing the truth on this, so that not only will legislators take action, but also that the general public is aware that the data that's being collected by these huge platforms is actually being used against our children and against the users themselves.

So you say it's time for legislators to take action. You are going to reintroduce -- introduce or you have reintroduced the Kids Internet Design and Safety Act. The question is, what regulations should there be?

I will play for you in a moment what one of the Facebook executive says should happen next, but what do you believe should happen next for Facebook?

TRAHAN: Well, one, I think it's long overdue that we have age- appropriate design regulations in our country, which is essentially what the KIDS Act gets at. [14:10:05]

But, certainly, in light of Frances Haugen's data that she reveals in the reporting last week, we need to go far beyond that. We need to be more transparent. We introduced the Social Media Data Act, so that, rather than relying on Facebook to cherry-pick their internal research and releasing it in a way that casts them in a bright light, we get at the truth.

We understand what conditions are on these platforms like Facebook, what impacts that has on our children, on our democracy, on the distribution of misinformation by giving independent researchers access to content.

BLACKWELL: So, is disclosure the answer here? I apologize for jumping in. But I want to get to what the specific regulations are, the specific changes or controls that should be enforced over companies like Facebook.

TRAHAN: Absolutely.

BLACKWELL: What are they?

TRAHAN: Absolutely.

We have to make sure that we have transparency around how these algorithms are used, how content and advertising is pushed to these users, so that we can -- so that we can engage in a responsible policy-making and legislation.

And so by giving access to these libraries, to our independent researchers, that is going to -- in a way that protects our intellectual property and privacy, mind you, we're going to be able to understand the impact and we're going to be able to...

BLACKWELL: But, Congresswoman...

TRAHAN: Right.Yes.

BLACKWELL: Congresswoman, we now know. We now have, thanks to this whistle-blower, the data that shows that -- the internal research shows that roughly one in three teen girls who felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse, that teens blame Instagram for increases in anxiety and depression.

And while you suggest that the disclosure of the information is the first step, now that you have this, what are you going to do with it?

TRAHAN: Well, certainly, I have been a huge proponent of -- from the beginning of not allowing Facebook to launch Instagram for kids.

Mind you, if you remember before this research was made public, Facebook had plans on launching an app geared toward our youngest users. They have since paused that. We need to make that permanent.

BLACKWELL: Yes. TRAHAN: There's no reason why an 11-year-old like my daughter should

be on an app that is forcing her to check her likes and her comments or putting a healthy glow on her appearance because her actual appearance isn't somehow good enough.

So, one, I think we need age-appropriate design measures, which is what the KIDS Act gets that. And then, two, we need a full picture. We need a full picture of all of the algorithms, how they are dialed, how misinformation spreads, how these children and our youngest users are impacted by the design of this platform, so that we can make sure we put proper guardrails.


BLACKWELL: So, if I'm hearing you correctly, is that you're not at the phase yet, even with the KIDS Act, of understanding what controls or regulations should be enforced over Facebook, because you don't have the information?

TRAHAN: Oh, no.


BLACKWELL: That's what I'm trying to get to.


BLACKWELL: Your answers are about disclosure and understanding algorithms, and they have their place.

But with the research and the information that you have, according to this reporting from "The Wall Street Journal," and what we have from this whistle-blower, is there anything that you believe -- and maybe at this point there is not -- that should be enforced on Facebook to protect teen girls?

TRAHAN: Yes, so, certainly, the autoscroll and the likes and the comments and so many of the filters that our young women, our youngest users are using, we know that's unhealthy.

I think, underneath all that, Victor, is also the way that content is pushed to a young user or any user or any user once they have engaged with a weight loss advertisement or piece of content, how, all of a sudden, they're going to get more types of content like that, which further puts them feeling badly about themselves, as we know that research suggests.

So I think, first and foremost, we need to change the features in these products so that they're more uplifting and healthier for our young users. And then we also have to get at the underlying algorithms to make sure that we're not taking advantage of people who are clicking on certain types of content as a signal that we should be inundating them with more, because we know that -- where that leads. It leads to mental health concerns.

BLACKWELL: Yes. TRAHAN: So I think it's two things. It's feature set and appropriate

design, but it's also understanding, which we do not have full access to the full depth of the problem yet in terms of disclosure and transparency.


All right, Congresswoman Lori Trahan, thank you so much for your time.

TRAHAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. Meanwhile, President Biden is blasting Republicans as reckless and hypocritical.


He is urging Congress to raise the debt ceiling ahead of the October 18 deadline to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debt for the first time ever. That's a move that could devastate the U.S. economy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, let's be clear. Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job. They're threatening to use the power, their power, to prevent us from doing our job, saving the economy from a catastrophic event.

I think quite frankly, it's hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful.

A meteor is headed to crash into our economy.


CAMEROTA: All right, Kaitlan Collins is covering these developments for us at the White House.

So, Kaitlan, the president is putting pressure on the Republicans, because they're the ones who are saying they're not going to help the Democrats with raising this. So where are we?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and they're using the filibuster block to block Democrats from doing so.

And President Biden said just about 10 minutes before he made those remarks today he did receive a letter from senator Mitch McConnell, essentially reiterating his position that Republicans are not going to vote with Democrats to help raise the debt limit and that, instead, they are saying that this pressure, all of this responsibility is on Democrats to do so using that process known as reconciliation, which the president said today is essentially code to the American people that it would be a way that they would use it where they would only have to get Democrat support to raise the debt limit.

Of course, the president and Democrats are pushing back on that, saying not only would it be a cumbersome and complicated process, but also noting correctly that Democrats did vote with Republicans when they were in the majority and when Donald Trump was in office to raise the debt limit several times.

And so essentially where we are today is a standoff between Democrats and Republicans over this, and neither side is blinking so far. And the president is saying he cannot see that, two weeks from today, the government is not going to breach its debt limit. And that, of course, would mean that potentially -- this is something that has never happened before, we should note.

But it also would mean that Social Security payments may not be able to be made, military members may not be able to get paid, all of these financial obligations that the U.S. government has would not be able to be met if they do not solve this issue.

And we know that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on lawmakers to send a bill solving this issue to the president's desk by Friday, but they have not figured out how to do so. They're not even close to yet getting to an agreement on that.

So that is going to be a big conversation here in Washington this week as they wait to see how they're going to solve this. And, of course, the president is calling on Republicans to help avoid that meteor, he says, that's going to crash into the U.S. economic system.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us here at the White House, thank you so much.

All right, right now, in Southern California, an environmental disaster is happening after thousands of gallons of oil spilled offshore. We're live in Huntington Beach next.

CAMEROTA: And the holidays, of course, are just around the corner and the CDC has just released guidance on whether to spend them with your extended family all in one place.



CAMEROTA: An ecological catastrophe is unfolding in Southern California.

A broken pipeline has spilled 126,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific ocean right off of Huntington Beach. That beach and others are closed. The sand, as you can see, is covered with tar. And the spill threatens these nearby wetlands that are home to dozens of species of birds and other wildlife.

BLACKWELL: The crews are trying to remove some of the oil and they're setting up protective barriers on the sand. Divers have been scouring the 17-mile pipeline to try to find the source of the leak.

CNN's Natasha Chen is on Huntington Beach.

Natasha, what are you seeing?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Alisyn, right now, we're at the Huntington Beach Wildlife and Wetlands Care Center.

And what's happening right in this spot is that animals are coming in as they're being discovered covered in oil. They're coming here to be treated and potentially brought to other facilities as well. So, actually, just an hour or two ago, a little sanderling was brought in there. That guy's in the back building being treated at the moment.

We know of the brown pelican that's already been euthanized, we're told, because of injuries. So there are many teams out there scouring up and down the coast actively looking for these animals that might have oil on them.

We have heard reports through the Huntington Beach mayor that fish and birds have been washing up, so very devastating on that front. People, humans should also avoid touching these animals. If they find them, they should be calling a hot line instead. And really people should be avoiding the water and that shoreline, because, as you showed, there is oil now on the shoreline.

It was getting stuck to the bottom of people's feet. The health officials in this county said that that could potentially cause skin irritation, and really even the evaporated products from the spill could cause irritation, even dizziness and vomiting, the health officials, aid so people really need to be careful about that.

BLACKWELL: Natasha Chen for us there in Huntington Beach, thank you.

CAMEROTA: So, the oil slick from this spill is 8, 300 acres in size. That's larger than the size of Santa Monica.

Joining us now is so, Miyoko Sakashita. She's the director of the Center for Biological Diversity Oceans Program.

Miyoko, thanks so much for being here.

Listen to what the Orange County supervisor, Katrina Foley, told CNN this morning about the impact on the wetlands there in Huntington Beach.


KATRINA FOLEY, ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA SUPERVISOR: We have three wetlands that are in Huntington Beach, and that the entire area is saturated with oil. Our wetlands and wildlife centers are taking care of animals and cleaning the poison off the animals now.


And the area, the Orange County Public Works has put up berms. We have been working around the clock to try to secure the area to prevent any more seepage into that area.


CAMEROTA: OK, so, Miyoko, let's just talk about, what is the impact? I mean, do we know how many animals will be wiped out by this, how long it will take to clean up this area and these animals?

MIYOKO SAKASHITA, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY OCEANS PROGRAM: Well, thank you so much to the responders who are trying to help clean up oiled animals and find and save them.

This oil spill is just a devastating reminder of how dirty and dangerous offshore drilling can be. And the impacts on the wildlife are going to last for many decades. We have seen other oil spills that are the size, for example, the Plains All American oil spill up in Santa Barbara, that killed hundreds of seabirds, and harmed many marine mammals and killed fish.

So we're going to be seeing the effects of this for a long time. And it's very sad to see.

CAMEROTA: It sounds like this company, the oil company that is the parent of this pipeline, has had previous safety violations and citations.

Just a few that we know of, more than 100 violations over the past 11 years. They were fined $85,000 in 2013 and '14 for three incidents. At least two cases led to worker injuries. One of the parent companies went through bankruptcy several years ago.

I mean, do we know if they were doing something wrong here? Was this just a horrible accident and tragedy? Or do we know what was behind this?

SAKASHITA: Well, we don't know specifically what caused the oil spill.

But what we can see is that offshore drilling is just so dangerous that there's no real way to prevent something like this. This particular operator and many along the California coast have been just allowing these old infrastructure -- these old platforms to sit out there in the wind and the waves and get battered by the sea, without adequate upkeep and without really taking care of the things they need to do to make sure that they can prevent this.


CAMEROTA: I mean, you called them time bombs. I just want to point out you have called them time bombs, because you think -- you have seen them up close, this infrastructure that -- basically, is it decaying?

I mean, what have you seen?


I have taken a vote up and around near Platform Alley. And I have seen with my own eyes that you can visually see rust from a distance. These platforms are old. They were built more than 40 years ago. And yet their expected lifespan was only about 35 years.

So what we're seeing is that the upkeep of these has been insufficient. They're old and corroded. They're -- they have had spills before from pipelines from this platform. And it's really just time to put an end to these platforms and decommission all of them.

They're not safe out there.

CAMEROTA: Miyoko Sakashita, thank you very much for sharing your experience with us.

SAKASHITA: Yes, thank you. It's nice to talk to you.

CAMEROTA: You too.

BLACKWELL: Guns, abortion, school vouchers, the Supreme Court docket is full of some of the most divisive issues in our country.

And CNN has insight from inside the court on the first day of the term.