Facebook’s Efforts to Attract Youths Come Under Senate Scrutiny

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Commerce panel convenes hearing after Journal reporting company knew Instagram was harmful to many of its young users

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Lawmakers want to know how Facebook executives reacted to the submission of research that concluded that photos and videos shared on Instagram made body image issues worse for a large minority of teenage girls. Dia and teens blame Instagram for “increasing rates of anxiety and depression.”

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“The more I know, the more I hate what I’ve seen,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), who chairs the Commerce Committee’s consumer-protection panel. He said he and his staff had reviewed thousands of pages of Facebook documents and spoke to a person they identified as a whistleblower with knowledge of the issues.

“My focus, obviously, will be on Businesshala’s revelations of the extraordinary danger and damage that Facebook’s profound harm poses to young people, especially girls,” she said in an interview. “I’m going to ask Facebook why it deliberately concealed these facts and what it’s going to do to fix these practices.”

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Facebook has said the journal’s reporting misrepresented its internal research. The company said in a statement, “Research has indeed demonstrated that teens we’ve heard from feel that using Instagram helps them cope with the difficult moments and issues they always face. Huh.” 26 september blog post.

The journal defended its reporting, saying that Facebook did not cite a single factual error and was given ample opportunity to comment before publication.

Facebook will be represented by the company’s global security chief Antigone Davis, the only witness scheduled for Thursday’s hearing.

Davis, an attorney who joined Facebook in 2014 from the Maryland attorney general’s office, has represented the company in discussions with outside mental-health experts and other advocates who work to protect children online.

In remarks prepared for Thursday’s hearing, Ms Davis said Facebook is “committed to the safety and well-being of the youngest people using our services.”

According to a copy of comments seen by the Journal, “This work includes keeping underage users off our platform … and addressing serious issues such as child abuse, suicide and self-harm, and bullying.” partnering with product teams.”

Ms Davis said the Facebook research cited by the Journal was conducted “to inform internal conversations about teens’ most negative perceptions about Instagram”.

“Our research has shown that many teens who are struggling say that Instagram helps them deal with many difficult issues that are all too common to be a teen,” she said in the prepared remarks.

In 2016 speech In New York, she cited Facebook’s tools designed to help prevent suicide and other harm when she remembered a friend who had died by suicide.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) plans to ask Ms. Davis how the company responded “once its research found that a significant portion of teenage girls using their platform had negative mental health. impacts,” according to a statement from his office.

Following the Journal’s September 14 article, Facebook said this week that it would halt work on a version of Instagram designed for children under the age of 13.

Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee, called the pause “a step in the right direction” but said Congress must “respond to the pattern of choosing profit over the well-being of Big Tech’s young users.” “

The journal article was one of a series of reports based on internal Facebook documents. In another installment on Wednesday, the Journal reported that Facebook’s efforts to build a younger audience extended beyond Instagram.

Facebook and other large technology platforms have faced more than a year of congressional scrutiny over issues including alleged privacy abuses, content-restraint practices and competition concerns.

Facebook has emerged as a primary target. Many Democrats blame the company for allowing the dissemination of misleading material. Many Republicans still see Facebook as a symbol of the perceived risks of the Internet, especially for children. The social-media giant’s privacy practices have also drawn scrutiny from regulators, including a record $5 billion civil penalty from the Federal Trade Commission.

Some lawmakers want to make a case for legislation expanding protections for children online. One pending bipartisan bill The Senate, backed by some members of the panel, will expand existing restrictions on the online collection of personal data about children, including reducing the applicable age from 13 to under 15 so that protections cover more teens.

Ryan Tracy at ry[email protected] and John D. McKinnon at [email protected]

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