A stream of bad news for Facebook in recent weeks has created a palpable sense the social media titan may finally face a reckoning over its dominance of human interaction across the globe.

Questions about whether Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg wield such power responsibly have been circulating for years, but gained greater urgency with the COVID-19 pandemic and its isolation, which put our digital lives in stark relief. Our worst fears about the 2.9-billion-member platform were confirmed by the Oct. 5 congressional testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist who warned the platform’s conflict-inducing algorithms are “tearing apart our democracy, putting our children in danger and sowing ethnic violence across the world.” She said Facebook’s leaders see the platform’s toxic effects but “won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.”

Haugen’s testimony came after a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed the company has long known of the mental health problems caused by Facebook and Instagram, but buried the data for fear of scaring off potential users. The report came when the company was trying to persuade Congress that its proposed “Instagram Kids” isn’t as terrible an idea as it seems. That platform was paused; an executive insisted Instagram would still “work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the value and need for this product.”

Haugen compared Facebook to tobacco companies Congress punished for hooking teenagers on nicotine. In her book “Dopamine Nation,” Stanford University psychiatrist Dr. Anna Lembke warns of the disturbing effects social media has on our brain pathways, calling smartphones “the modern-day hypodermic needle, delivering digital dopamine 24/7 for a wired generation.”

Zuckerberg himself has shown little capacity for self-reflection. He retired the company’s “move fast and break things” motto in 2014, hoping to shed his public image as a shallow, self-absorbed simpleton whose one lucky idea really wasn’t his own. But Zuckerberg increasingly seems in over his head. In attacking Haugen’s testimony, he cited a cheery internal report from August that noted most Facebook posts in the second quarter of 2021 were “focused on sharing content about pets, cooking, family.”

Why only the second quarter? Because in the first quarter, the most-shared article on Facebook (54 million times) was about a Florida doctor who died after receiving the COVID vaccine (the medical examiner later couldn’t determine the vaccine played a role.) This was concealed by Facebook for fear it would look bad, the New York Times reported. “We’re guilty of cleaning up our house a bit before we invited company,” a Facebook spokesperson admitted.

Facebook might be trusted if it could reliably police its platform. But a Guardian report in 2017 detailed the hopeless task of Facebook’s overwhelmed, understaffed moderator teams, who broke non-disclosure agreements to describe the nightmarish work. And as a newspaper that has repeatedly asked Facebook to remove copyrighted material stolen from us by the site’s innumerable spam “content” mills, we can attest these Facebook staffers are often asleep at the wheel.

But if you lack sympathy for us, surely you have some for Andy and Barbara Parker. Their daughter, TV news reporter Alison Parker, was murdered on live television along with a co-worker in 2015. Since then, the Parkers have been unable to escape the murder footage, which still circulates on Facebook after the Parkers begged the company to ban it.

“Facebook wants the public to self-police. They want me to watch the videos and report them,” Andy Parker told the Federal Trade Commission this week. “And even when you do report it, they ignore you.”

Maybe the so-called gatekeepers of 20th century journalism, with their discretion and editorial judgment, weren’t so bad after all. At least we run corrections, and before running a story, we ask: is it important to our readers? If Facebook’s leadership can’t exercise basic ethics, then Congress should uses its antitrust powers to dismantle it.

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