Republican and Democratic senators announced they will launch an investigation into Facebook after a report the social media giant knew its platforms could be “toxic” for some young users.
According to internal data and presentations reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook found that Instagram, which it owns, can have adverse mental health effects on young users. One presentation stated that “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls."
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"Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse," another internal Facebook document reviewed by the Wall Street Journal said. "Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves."
One presentation said that among teenage users who reported experiencing suicidal thoughts, 13% of British teenagers and 6% of American teenagers traced those thoughts to Instagram.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn announced Tuesday evening they would launch an investigation into Facebook’s knowledge of the data.
“It is clear that Facebook is incapable of holding itself accountable,” the senators said in a joint statement.
Blumenthal, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, and Blackburn, its ranking member, said the report “reveals Facebook’s leadership to be focused on a growth-at-all-costs mindset that valued profits over the health and lives of children and teens.”
“When given the opportunity to come clean to us about their knowledge of Instagram’s impact on young users, Facebook provided evasive answers that were misleading and covered up clear evidence of significant harm,” they said.
In August, Blackburn and Blumenthal wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting the company release its internal research on its platforms' impact on the mental health of young users.
The senators said they are “in touch with a Facebook whistleblower and will use every resource at our disposal to investigate what Facebook knew and when they knew it — including seeking further documents and pursuing witness testimony.”
The report "may only be the tip of the iceberg,” they added.
In response to the report, Karina Newton, head of public policy for Instagram, wrote in a blog post on the platform: “While the story focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light, we stand by this research.”
Newton added: “It demonstrates our commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work we do to help those experiencing these issues."
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Facebook said in July that it would move forward with plans to build an Instagram for children despite pushback from parents and lawmakers.
On Twitter, Blumenthal criticized those plans, writing: "Even though Facebook knows its platforms are doing lasting harm, they are racing at warp speed to push Instagram onto even younger kids," adding to that the subcommittee will oppose the "reckless ploy."
Even though Facebook knows its platforms are doing lasting harm, they are racing at warp speed to push Instagram onto even younger kids. Through hearings & legislation my Commerce subcommittee will act to protect children & support parents against this dangerous & reckless ploy.— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) September 14, 2021