Faced with outrage from lawmakers against Facebook for its handling of internal research into the harms caused by Instagram to teens, a Facebook executive is telling Congress the company is working to protect youth on its platform.
“We have put in place a number of protections to create a safe and age-appropriate experience for people ages 13 to 17,” Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis said in written testimony Thursday to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee.
Davis said Facebook removed more than 600,000 accounts on Instagram from June to August this year that didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 13.
Davis was called by the panel to investigate how Facebook handles information that could indicate potential harm to some of its users, especially girls, while minimizing negative effects on the public.
The revelations in a report in The Wall Street Journal, based on internal research leaked by a whistleblower on Facebook, have sparked a wave of anger from lawmakers, critics of Big Tech, child-development experts and parents. The outcry prompted Facebook to halt work on a children’s version of Instagram, which the company says is primarily aimed at tweens ages 10 to 12. But this is just a pause.
For some Instagram-dedicated teens, the peer pressure generated by the visually-focused app has led to mental-health and body-image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. It was Facebook’s own researchers who alerted executives of the social network giant to Instagram’s devastating potential.
Davis said in his testimony that Facebook has a history of using its internal research, as well as external experts and groups, to inform changes to its apps with the goal of keeping young people safe on the platform and ensuring To avoid using those that are not old enough.
“This hearing will examine the toxic effects of Facebook and Instagram on young people and others, and is one of many that will ask tough questions about whether Big Tech companies are intentionally harming people and hiding that knowledge. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, chairman of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, said in a statement. “The revelations about Facebook and others have raised deeper questions about what can and should be done to protect people.”
Senior Republicans on the panel, Blumenthal of Tennessee and Sen. Marsha Blackburn also plan to take testimony next week from a Facebook whistleblower believed to be the man who leaked Instagram research documents to the journal.
Despite the well-documented pitfalls, Facebook executives have consistently downplayed the downside of Instagram and went so far as to work on Instagram for Kids. On Monday, Instagram head Adam Mosseri said in a blog post that the company would use its time “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 policy makers to introduce safety measures for teens on its main Instagram platform. In fact, the company is working with experts and other consultants for another product aimed at kids — its Messenger Kids app that launched in late 2017.
The concentrated outrage extends beyond party and ideology, in contrast to lawmakers’ stances toward social media in general, which divide Republicans and Democrats. Republicans accuse Facebook, Google and Twitter of deliberately suppressing conservative, religious and anti-abortion views without evidence.
Democrats primarily train their criticism on hate speech, misinformation and other material that can incite violence, prevent people from voting or spread lies about the coronavirus.
Bipartisan stacks against Facebook as the tech giant awaits a federal judge’s decision on a revised complaint from the Federal Trade Commission in an epic antitrust case and as it grapples with the Biden administration over its handling of coronavirus vaccine misinformation .
Meanwhile, unprecedented legislation has gone ahead in Congress that would curb the market power of Facebook and other tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple — and could force them to separate their major platforms from other lines of business. For Facebook, which may target Instagram, the social media juggernaut is valued at around $100 billion, which it has owned since 2012, as well as messaging service WhatsApp.
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