How Choosing the Right Printer Helps Small Businesses and Content Creators to Save Time, Maximise Productivity and Achieve GrowthRead more The United States Contributes USD $223 Million to Help World Food Programme (WFP) Save Lives and Stave Off Severe Hunger in South SudanRead more Eritrea: World Breastfeeding WeekRead more Eritrean community festival in Scandinavian countriesRead more IOM: Uptick in Migrants Heading Home as World Rebounds from COVID-19Read more Network International & Infobip to offer WhatsApp for Business Banking Services to Financial Institution Clients across AfricaRead more Ambassador Jacobson Visits Gondar in the Amhara Region to Show Continued U.S. Support for the Humanitarian and Development Needs of EthiopiansRead more Voluntary Repatriation of Refugees from Angola to DR Congo ResumesRead more Senegal and Mauritania Are Rich in Resources, Poor in Infrastructure, Now Is the Time to Change That Read more Madinat Jumeirah: Dubai’s Stunning Four Hotel Beach Resort Offers Unirvalled Benefits for Summer StaycationsRead more

US lawmakers grill Facebook on spiking mental health fears

show caption
Facebook Global Head of Safety Director, Antigone Davis, testifies remotely before a Senate hearing on possible harm to teens online./AFP
Print Friendly and PDF

Oct 01, 2021 - 08:23 AM

WASHINGTON — US lawmakers Thursday demanded pledges from Facebook to address escalating worries over its platforms’ impact on teens’ mental health, but a top executive instead offered assurances the sites are already safe.

Senators grilled the social media giant’s Antigone Davis in an hours-long Capitol Hill hearing called over damning reports that Facebook’s own research warned of the harm photo-sharing app Instagram can do to teenage girls’ well-being.

“This research is a bombshell. 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,” Senator Richard Blumenthal said.

Davis, under questioning from Blumenthal and other senators, repeatedly said a Wall Street Journal series had selectively chosen parts of its studies to give an inaccurately dark vision of the company’s work.

She told lawmakers that a survey of teens on 12 serious issues like anxiety, sadness and eating disorders, showed that Instagram was generally helpful to them.

“On 11 of the 12 issues, teen girls who said they struggled with those issues were more likely to say that Instagram was affirmatively helping them, not making it worse,” said Davis, who delivered her testimony remotely.

Yet, Blumenthal read aloud excerpts from company documents he said were leaked to lawmakers by a Facebook whistleblower that directly contradicted her.

– Facebook whistleblower –

“Substantial evidence suggests that experiences on Instagram and Facebook make body dissatisfaction worse,” he said, adding the finding was not a disgruntled worker’s complaint but company research.

A Facebook whistleblower is set to testify before senators on Tuesday, but it was not immediately clear if that person was also the source of the leaked documents.

The social media giant has faced a growing backlash, including Thursday’s hearing, in the wake of the Journal reports, and it has halted work on a fiercely criticized plan to make a version of Instagram for children under 13.

Facebook argued a specially designed platform would allow some parental control in an online world already full of children, but critics called it a cynical strategy to hook the youngest users.

Lawmakers on Thursday demanded a pledge from Facebook to release all of its research and not to take aims at children under 13.

“Miss Davis will you commit that Facebook will not launch any platforms targeting kids 12 and under that include features… that allow children to quantify popularity?” asked Senator Ed Markey.

Davis sidestepped his query and instead said the company’s products “enrich” lives by allowing teens to connect with friends and family.

She added Facebook was looking into ways to share more of its findings, but that there were “privacy considerations” to take into account.

On Wednesday, the company released a heavily annotated version of two presentations on its own research but it was unclear what percentage they represent of its internal studies.

The company has been under relentless pressure to guard against being a platform where misinformation, hate and child-harming content can spread.

Legislators have struggled to pass new rules that would update online protections in decades-old laws crafted long before social media even existed.

ZONNTECH.COM uses both Facebook and Disqus comment systems to make it easier for you to contribute. We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. All comments should be relevant to the topic. By posting, you agree to our Privacy Policy. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, name-calling, foul language or other inappropriate behavior. Please keep your comments relevant and respectful. By leaving the ‘Post to Facebook’ box selected – when using Facebook comment system – your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the “X” in the upper right corner of the Facebook comment box to report spam or abuse. You can also email us.