US senators grill Facebook over leaked report depicting Instagram as harmful to teens

Social media company knew about platform's 'toxic' effect on teenage girls, report from 'The Wall Street Journal' says

Facebook's head of global security, Antigone Davis, faced criticism from senators on Thursday over recent research that shows the Instagram platform negatively affects teenagers.

“We care deeply about the safety and security of the people on our platform,” Ms Davis said during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing. “We take the issue very seriously.”

The Wall Street Journal released this month leaked internal documents that showed Facebook had played down a “significant teen mental health issue” related to the Instagram platform, which it described as “toxic for teenage girls” as it has the potential to exacerbate harmful body imagery, damage mental health and increase the risk of eating disorders or self-harm.

The report compelled the US Senate Commerce subcommittee to call for a hearing with the company.

“This research is a bombshell,” Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, said.

“It is powerful, gripping, riveting evidence that Facebook knows of the harmful effects of its site on children and that it has concealed those facts and findings.”

The social network temporarily shelved plans to create a kid-friendly version of Instagram this week.

“Instagram is that first childhood cigarette meant to get teens hooked early,” Edward Markey of Massachusetts said. “Facebook is just like Big Tobacco, pushing a product they know is harmful to the health of young people.”

Before the Thursday hearing and after the Journal's report, Facebook made the internal documents public on their communications web site and played defence.

“It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is 'toxic' for teen girls,” said Pratiti Raychoudhury, Facebook vice president and head of research.

“Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse as compared to the other 11 areas. But here also, the majority of teenage girls who experienced body image issues still reported Instagram either made it better or had no impact.”

At the hearing, Ms Davis toed the party line.

“We have put in place multiple protections to create safe and age-appropriate experiences for people between the ages of 13 and 17,” Ms Davis told senators.

A Facebook whistleblower will attend another Congressional hearing on Tuesday after appearing in a 60 Minutes TV interview airing this Sunday.

The highly popular visual social platform does not allow people under the age of 13 to create accounts, but this is notoriously difficult to enforce.

Facebook has owned Instagram since 2012 and it is valued at around $100 billion.

Updated: September 30th 2021, 11:50 PM
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