By Nathalie Voit

Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate claims that Facebook deceived advertisers and the public about “core aspects” of its business model in a letter sent to the agency on Dec. 8.

According to Cantwell, Facebook, now Meta Platforms, misled businesses in its claims that the company had largely eradicated hateful content from its platform, in turn putting advertisers’ brands at risk. Additionally, Cantwell claimed Meta may have inflated its ad reach by as much as 400%. She also accused the company of providing advertisers with inaccurate metrics.

If the allegations are true, they may constitute a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act’s prohibition against unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce, Cantwell stated in her letter.

The allegations are significant given the company’s large share of the digital advertising space. The tech giant controlled 74% of the social media market in July 2020 and now controls 24.1% of all digital advertising spending nationwide, she said.

“Members of the public and businesses are entitled to know the facts regarding Facebook’s conduct as they make their decisions about using the platform,” Cantwell wrote.

The letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan called into question the effectiveness of Facebook’s algorithms in taking down hate speech. The company repeatedly claimed its algorithms “remove 97% of [hate speech] content” before the content even gets posted. Yet, whistleblower documents supplied by former Facebook worker Frances Haugen revealed Facebook processes “miss more than 90% of hate speech content,” the letter said.

Additionally, Cantwell accused the company of exaggerating its advertising reach. According to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA.), who called for a separate investigation into the company just one day later, Facebook failed to warn investors or the SEC about errors in the platform’s “Potential Reach” tool, which was meant to estimate an ad’s marketing reach in a given area. Meta executives were most likely aware the metric “was meaningfully and consistently inflated,” Warren said.

The letters were made public just a day after Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security about the company’s efforts to protect children online.

Wednesday’s hearing and the subsequent letters were directly prompted by Haugen’s disclosures of internal company analytics in the fall.