Facebook used Big Tobacco playbook to exploit teens and children, senators say at hearing after WSJ series

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  • Facebook’s Antigone Smith, its global head of security, was grilled Thursday at a Senate subcommittee hearing about Instagram’s impact on teen mental health.
  • When lawmakers asked whether Facebook would permanently suspend plans for the Instagram Kids product, Davis was noncommittal.
  • The senators compared Facebook to the tobacco industry because they offer teens and children a product that is harmful to their health.

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US lawmakers on opposite sides of the aisle believe virtually nothing these days. The exception is when the subject is Facebook.

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Republican and Democrat Grilled Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global security chief, in a hearing before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection on Thursday. Antigone, who testified by video, was called in to answer questions about Instagram’s impact on teen mental health and Facebook’s efforts to build more products targeting children.

The hearing, titled “Protecting Children Online: Facebook, Instagram, and the Disadvantages of Mental Health” read as follows: Wall Street Journal report series These were based on internal studies conducted by Facebook researchers earlier this month. Those stories showed that Facebook is aware of Instagram’s harmful effects on young users’ mental health. Specially, Facebook’s own studies have shown That 13% of British users and 6% of US users traced their desire to commit suicide back on Instagram.

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Davis answered questions for nearly three hours, and listened as several senators compared Facebook to the tobacco industry, which had known for years the dangers associated with the deliberately concealed products it was selling.

Ed Markey, D-Mass, said, “Facebook is like Big Tobacco, pushing a product they know is harmful to young people’s health, getting it to them quickly, so that Facebook can make money.”

Here are the highlights of Thursday’s hearing:

Facebook can’t hold itself accountable

Subcommittee Chairman D-Con Richard Blumenthal began the hearing accusing Facebook of showing it was unable to hold itself accountable. Blumenthal said the Facebook whistleblower who provided the Journal’s stories and documents “gave deep insight into Facebook’s relentless campaign to recruit and exploit young users.”

“Now that we know that Facebook publicly denies that Instagram is too harmful to teens, privately Facebook researchers and experts have been sounding the alarm for years,” Blumenthal said. “Now that we know that Facebook routinely puts profits before children’s online safety, we know that it chooses to develop its products for the well-being of our children, and now we know that it is the best way to protect them. To act is unavoidably criminal.”

Blumenthal also noted that Facebook’s documents proved the company was untrue in prior correspondence with members of the Senate.

He said that in August, he and the subcommittee’s ranking member, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, wrote to R-Ten CEO Mark Zuckerberg and asked, “Has Facebook research ever found that its platform and products have a negative impact on children and The mental health or well-being of adolescents?”

In response, the company said, ‘We are not aware of the study or the experts as to how much screen time is.

“That reaction was simply untrue,” Blumenthal said. “It knows that the evidence of harm to teens is substantial and specific to Instagram.”

Instagram Kids. but Facebook is non-committal

A central issue of concern to lawmakers on Thursday was Facebook’s Instagram Kids product.

Project, First reported by Buzzfeed Further uncovered by the Journal in March, led Facebook to announce this week that it would halt development of an Instagram app for people under the age of 13.

Throughout the hearing, senators asked Davis whether Facebook would commit to shelving Instagram Kids for good.

“Do you promise not to launch a site that includes features like buttons and follower counts that allow kids to gauge popularity?” asked Markie.

Davis was noncommittal and said the company would look further into what features matter most to children.

“Sen. Markey, those are the kinds of features that we’ll talk about with our experts trying to really understand what’s most age appropriate and what isn’t age appropriate, and we certainly Will discuss those features.” Davis said.

Facebook cherry-picks the research you share

on Wednesday, Facebook has released two slide decks With his research on the impact of Instagram on teen mental health. The company published those decks, knowing that the journal was about to release all documents that contributed to its reporting.

The Journal ended publishing six decks., with far more information than is provided by Facebook to the public. Facebook also included annotations that often discredited the work of its own researchers.

Davis told senators at the hearing that the research was not complete and or was incorrectly prepared. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said his answers did not add up and asked whether the company planned to release all of its research to the public.

“You’re telling us, ‘If you only knew the full research,’ and then at the same time, you’re not continuing the research. So which is it?” Cruz asked.

Davis said the company was in the process of determining what additional research it could release.

“So you’ve cherry-picked who you want us to see,” Cruz said.

Cruz then asked Davis about research showing the percentage of teens in the US and UK trace their suicidal desires back to Instagram. Davis said those figures were a misrepresentation of the company’s research.

Big Tobacco Playbook

In his opening remarks, Blumenthal highlighted the findings of Facebook’s research showing that many teens feel addicted to their Instagram use.

“Indeed, Facebook has taken over Big Tobacco’s playbook,” he said. “It has concealed its own research on addiction and the toxic effects of its products, it has attempted to deceive the public and us in Congress, and it has weaponized childhood vulnerabilities against children.”

Sen. Marque echoed those comments.

“Instagram is that the first childhood cigarettes were meant to attract teens early, take advantage of peer pressure to popularity, and ultimately put their health at risk,” he said.

‘We don’t really finsta’

As in seemingly every hearing involving Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley, there was a moment underscoring how little lawmakers often understand about the nuances of the Internet.

At the end of the hearing, Blumenthal took the opportunity to ask Davis about “finsta,” a term that refers to Instagram accounts that are not tied to one’s true identity. Finsta accounts are often used to anonymously spy on other users’ posts.

“Will you commit to eliminating Finsta?” Blumenthal asked.

Davis paused before responding, “Senator, let me explain it again. We don’t really do finstas.”

Blumenthal then asked, “Finsta is one of your products or services. We’re not talking about Google or Apple. It’s Facebook right?”

“Finsta is slang for a type of account,” Davis said.

The conversation was reminiscent of an exchange Congressional hearings in 2018. Orrin Hatch, a Republican senator from Utah who has retired, asked Zuckerberg, “How do you maintain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

It is commonly known that Facebook has become one of the most valuable companies in the world through its sophisticated advertising that is used by most large businesses to target potential customers.

“Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg said.

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