WASHINGTON (AP) – Political opponents in Congress are united against Facebook for privately compiling reports that its Instagram photo-sharing service appears to be seriously harming some teens, especially girls, while publicly downplaying the negative impact of the popular platform.
Growing public pressure over the disclosures prompted Facebook to halt work on a children’s version of Instagram, which the company says is primarily aimed at tweens between the ages of 10 and 12. But this is only a break.
For some of the dedicated Instagram teens, the peer pressure generated by the visually targeted app resulted in mental health and body image issues, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. It was Facebook’s own researchers who alerted the executives of the social media giant to Instagram’s destructive potential.
These revelations in a Wall Street Journal report, based on internal research leaked by a Facebook whistleblower, has sparked anger from lawmakers, Big Tech critics, child development experts and parents.
Facebook’s head of global security Antigone Davis was called to testify Thursday by a Senate Commerce Committee panel examining Instagram’s impact on young users.
She should tell lawmakers that Facebook is working to prevent children under 13 from accessing platforms that are not suitable for them. The company is developing features to protect young people on its platforms, using research and consultation with outside experts to make the user experience positive, Davis is ready to testify.
She says Facebook has a habit of using its internal research as well as experts and external groups to inform about changes to its apps. The aim is to ensure the safety of young people on the platforms and to ensure that those who are not of age to use them do not do so.
Committee chair Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., And his senior Republican, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Blumenthal is a leading liberal, a former federal prosecutor who has sued powerful industries on consumer protection issues and has emphasized civil rights. Blackburn, a strong ally of former President Donald Trump, is a conservative and abortive foe who has repeatedly accused Facebook, Google and Twitter of censoring these views.
The Instagram revelations brought them together to demand accountability from Facebook.
“This audience will examine the toxic effects of Facebook and Instagram on young people and others, and is one of many that will ask the tough questions about whether big tech companies knowingly harm people and cover up these knowledge, ”Blumenthal said in a statement. “The revelations on Facebook and others have raised profound questions about what can and should be done to protect people.”
Blumenthal and Blackburn also plan to collect testimony next week from a Facebook whistleblower, possibly the person who leaked the Instagram research papers to the Journal.
A glimpse of Davis’ grilled faces came last week, when, in a separate Senate hearing, Blumenthal told another Facebook executive regarding the Instagram search: “You were sent here to defend the indefensible. ”
“The responsibility is ahead,” said Blumenthal. “And it will be bipartisan.”
Facebook criticized the Journal’s story as a selection of his research, although it did not dispute the authenticity of the documents.
Despite the well-documented damage, Facebook executives have always played down the negative side of Instagram and have continued their work on Instagram for Kids, until now. Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said on Monday in a blog post that the company will use its downtime “to work with parents, experts and policy makers to demonstrate the value and need for this product.”
Already in July, Facebook said it was working with parents, experts and policymakers when it introduced teen safety measures on its main Instagram platform. In fact, the company has worked with experts and other advisers for another product aimed at children – its Messenger Kids app which launched in late 2017.
Focused outrage transcending party and ideology contrasts with the stance of lawmakers towards social media in general, which divides Republicans and Democrats. Republicans accuse Facebook, Google and Twitter, without evidence, of deliberately suppressing conservative, religious and anti-abortion views.
Democrats form their critics primarily on hate speech, disinformation and other content on platforms that can incite violence, prevent people from voting, or spread lies about the coronavirus.
Biparty stack against Facebook continues as tech giant awaits federal judge ruling on revised Federal Trade Commission complaint in an epic antitrust case and as she argues with the Biden administration over its handling of misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine.
Meanwhile, groundbreaking legislation has advanced in Congress that would reduce the market power of Facebook and other tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple – and could force them to unlink their dominant platforms from their other lines of business. For Facebook, that could target Instagram, the roughly $ 100 billion social media juggernaut it has owned since 2012, as well as the WhatsApp messaging service.
Follow Marcy Gordon on https://twitter.com/mgordonap