Sen. Rockefeller ‘not a great fan of Facebook’

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Facebook boasts over 800 million active users worldwide, but West Virginia Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller says he is not a fan of the social network.

At the Senate Commerce Committee’s confirmation hearing for FCC commissioner nominees Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel Wednesday, the senator took time at the end of the hearing to express his dislike for Facebook, saying that it leads to children “exposing themselves” and “bullying.”

Rockefeller’s swipe at Facebook came a day after the social network announced a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The senator — while referring to content in the media that could be deemed potentially harmful to children, and how parents are deeply concerned about children — made a Facebook comment: “I’m not a great fan of Facebook.”

“Everybody else is, 750 million people certainly are around the world, but I’m not because I think it — what it does is essentially, and not just them but others, it leads children to expose themselves, thinking that they’re just doing it, making a comment to a friend but then it’s available to all of Indonesia and to all of China and all the world,” said Rockefeller. “And then you get bullying and you get picking on, you get sort of cyber-suicide type thoughts, and there are examples of this.”

While voicing a FTC-related concern at a hearing about the FCC might seem out of left-field, Rockefeller spokesman Vince Morris told TheDC that the senator brought up Facebook because it was front and center in the headlines this week.

Rockefeller said  — describing concern over the negative impact of new technologies exposing children to harmful content — that it “makes him very angry” and that “it should make all of America angry.”

Rockefeller said that media content was becoming “obscene” and “promiscuous.” He told the FCC nominees, “Everybody yells First Amendment so you never get very much done about it.” (RELATED: Facebook mum on whether anticipated smartphone violates net neutrality)

Facebook — according to the agreement made with the FTC announced Tuesday — is barred from making “deceptive privacy claims” about how it handles user data, must submit to 20 years of third-party audits, and must also “seek the permission of its users before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences.”

Rockefeller, in a statement on Facebook’s settlement with the FTC Tuesday, called for additional consumer privacy oriented legislation. “Ultimately, I believe legislation is needed that empowers consumers to protect their personal information from companies surreptitiously collecting and using that personal information for profit,” he said.

“Consumer privacy is a right, not a luxury,” said Rockefeller.

The company introduced a number of security features throughout the year, and has been an active participant in the child online safety community, engaging both public and private sector efforts. As recent as October 9, Facebook worked with Time Warner and CNN on an Anderson Cooper 360 Town Hall special on bullying.

Morris said that the senator has a “good relationship with the company and is aware of their efforts on child protection.”

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes told TheDC, in response to the senator’s comments at Wednesday’s hearing, “We believe that educating teens about safety is a responsibility shared by policy makers, safety advocates,parents and services like Facebook.”

He said that the company plans “to continue to invest in resources that help teens stay safe online, and will talk to parents, teachers, safety experts and many others to help foster a trusted environment,” and added that Facebook has “a clear policy that people must be 13+ to use Facebook” that goes “over and beyond what COPPA requires in order to promote safety.”

COPPA is the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, a law that dictates — in the interest of the protection of child privacy rights — what a website can and cannot do with data collected from minors.

Recent data from a study conducted by the Family Online Safety Institute and Pew indicated “that most teens have positive interactions on social networking sites, and that an overwhelming number of parents are actively discussing online safety with their teens,” said Noyes.

In August, Rockefeller, at West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference 2011, introduced Facebook’s Vice President of Global Public Policy Marne Levine. Rockefeller commended Facebook for its growth and its ability to connect students with places and people from all over the world. The senator said, “we must work together to teach kids responsible and appropriate ways to use the Internet.”

Morris told TheDC that at the FCC hearing, Rockefeller was “just prodding.”

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