Facebook grilled by senators over its impact on children

Washington – lawmakers took a sharp target Facebook On Thursday, a Senate hearing harshly questioned one of its executives about Instagram’s impact on teens, highlighting growing bipartisan frustrations and concerns with the social media giant.

a member of Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis warned the executive to withhold internal information about how its services harm young people and not significantly change those services to reduce them. Senators accused the company of knowing for years that instagramIts photo-sharing app has caused mental and emotional harm.

“It has concealed its own research on addiction and the toxic effects of its products,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut and chair of the subcommittee. “It has attempted to deceive the public and us in Congress from what it knows, and it has weaponized childhood vulnerabilities against children. It is a development chosen over the mental health and well-being of children, of preventing children’s suffering. It’s greed.”

Lawmakers have called for rules to rein in Facebook, saying scams involving security, misuse of data privacy and misinformation have created a trust deficit.

“You’ve lost trust, and we don’t trust you to influence our kids,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee.

Ms Davis, a seven-year Facebook veteran and former senior adviser to the Maryland attorney general, often reacted defensively. MPs from both sides regularly cut her talk, saying she was not answering their questions.

He said that Facebook has disputed the grounds that instagram harmed teens, pointing to research that showed teens had positive experiences on Instagram. And she said Facebook has made changes to help limit any harm among younger users.

“Right now, young people tell us – eight out of 10 tell us – they have a neutral or positive experience on our app,” she said. “We want it to be a 10 out of 10. If someone is struggling with our platform, we want to make product changes to help improve and support that experience.”

The hearing was the first of two on the effects of Facebook on children. The second, on Tuesday, will be with a whistleblower who has shared documents on Facebook’s research on teens.

The hearing was called this month after The Wall Street Journal published a series of articles about internal research on Facebook. one of the articles reported that, according to Facebook’s findings, one in three teens said Instagram made their body image issues worse. Among teens who have suicidal thoughts, 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users said they could discover those thoughts on Instagram.

On Wednesday evening, Facebook released two slide decks from research cited by The Journal. The company commented heavily on the slides, at times disputing or re-disputing the accuracy and intent of the research reports. The company said in its slides that several teens reported positive experiences on Instagram, including that the app helped with mental health at times.

The lawmakers said the documents were only a small part of internal Facebook research they saw on Instagram and teens. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz said during the hearing that the company appeared to be releasing data suited to its messaging.

“So you’ve cherry-picked the piece of research that you think helps your spin right now,” Mr. Cruz said.

The research appears to contradict public statements from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram executive in-charge Adam Mosseri. The two have long dismissed warnings that Instagram – through filters that can enhance images and a “Like” button that can be used as a gauge of popularity – has created a frightening trend for younger users. created the atmosphere and made many teenagers feel bad about themselves.

This week, Mr. Mosseri announced that Facebook Stop planning to release a version of Instagram aimed at kids In elementary and middle school – a rare decision by Facebook to change business plans after public pressure. But he continued to defend the idea of ​​the app, saying that the reality is that kids are online at a very young age and Facebook is best equipped to create a safe environment for kids on social media. The company has said that it can offer more robust security and privacy features on an app for young children than its main Instagram app, pointing to what YouTube has done with YouTube Kids.

Ms Davis reiterated some of that message at the hearing. But lawmakers stressed the company’s justification for an app for young children as well, in light of research on teens.

“Taking advantage of the peer pressure of popularity and ultimately putting their health at risk,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts. “Facebook is like Big Tobacco, pushing a product they know is harmful to young people’s health, pushing it quickly.”

Congress has held several hearings in recent years with senior leaders at Facebook and other large tech companies inquiring about issues including the spread of misinformation, market power and privacy. But legislators have struggled to write laws that address their concerns about those issues.

Although members of Congress have become more sophisticated about the tech industry, they have been narrowly focused on privacy and antitrust, said Karen Kornblu, a senior fellow focused on Internet issues at the German Marshall Fund.

“This week the dam seemed to be breaking,” said Ms Kornblu. He said the investigation on Facebook has made more lawmakers realize that researchers should have access to the company’s data to assess how the services are working.

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