ANDERSON – Poor Mark Zuckerberg.

The Facebook founder already had enemies on both sides of the political aisle. He already had folks blaming his creation for much that is wrong in the world today.

And then along came Frances Haugen, the former employee who says she was recruited in 2019 to be the lead product manager on Facebook’s civic misinformation team. She joined the company, she told a Senate subcommittee, because she thought it had the potential “to bring out the best in us.”

“But I am here today because I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy,” she said.

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

She noted that the social media platform had suffered an outage the day before.

“I don’t know why it went down, but I know that for more than five hours Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies,” she told the senators.

“It also means that millions of small businesses weren’t able to reach potential customers and countless photos of new babies weren’t joyously celebrated by family and friends around the world. I believe in the potential of Facebook. We can have social media we enjoy, that connects us, without tearing apart our democracy, putting our children in danger and sowing ethnic violence across the world. We can do better.”

In a message to company employees, Zuckerberg said Haugen’s criticism didn’t make sense.

“We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content,” he wrote. “And I don’t know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed. The moral, business and product incentives all point in the opposite direction.”

He expressed disappointment at the criticism of his company’s “industry-leading research program.”

“It’s disheartening to see that work taken out of context and used to construct a false narrative that we don’t care,” he wrote.

He noted the platform’s impact in helping users to stay connected. “This is why billions of people love our products,” he told employees. “I’m proud of everything we do to keep building the best social products in the world and grateful to all of you for the work you do here every day.”

The subcommittee that heard Haugen’s testimony is led by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal. He invited Zuckerberg to respond. “You need to explain to Frances Haugen, to us, to the world and to the parents of America what you were doing and why you did it,” Blumenthal said.

In an essay for the Washington Post, Robin Givhan points the finger of blame in another direction. “The problem with Facebook is us,” she wrote. “We’ve been weaponized against ourselves. Our personal data, our insecurities, our tribal tendencies, our fears. It’s all bringing us down. We have become twitchy social media addicts ready to melt down or explode with the slightest provocation.”

She might have a point.

Still, as Zuckerberg tries to fend off his platform’s critics, my mind wanders back to a more innocent time, to the late 1950s and a hit song by the Coasters.

“Fee fee fi fi fo fo fum,” the lyrics go. “I smell smoke in the auditorium. Charlie Brown! Charlie Brown! He’s a clown. That Charlie Brown. He’s gonna get caught. Just you wait and see.”

Cue Mark Zuckerberg, stealing a line from bass vocalist Will “Dub” Jones. You can almost feel the hurt in that deep voice as he asks, “Why’s everybody always picking on me?”

Why indeed. 

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at kelly.hawes@indianamediagroup.com. Find him on Twitter @Kelly_Hawes.