Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Senators push Facebook’s exec over Instagram policies for youth

WASHINGTON (WNN) – Senators on Thursday criticized a Facebook executive for dealing with the social-networking giant’s internal research into how its Instagram photo-sharing platform could harm teens.

Lawmakers accused Facebook of hiding negative findings about Instagram and demanded a commitment from the company to make changes.

During testimony before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee, Facebook’s global security chief, Antigone Davis, defended Instagram’s efforts to protect youths who use its platform. He disputed the way a recent newspaper story describes what the research shows.

“We care deeply about the safety and security of the people on our platform,” Davis said. “We take this issue very seriously. … We have put in place a number of security measures to create a safe and age-appropriate experience for people aged 13 to 17.”

D-Con Sen. Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the subcommittee, was not convinced.

“I don’t understand how you can deny that Instagram is exploiting young users for its own benefit,” he told Davis.

The panel is investigating Facebook’s own researchers’ use of information that may indicate potential harm to some of its younger users, especially girls, while it publicly underestimated the negative effects. For some Instagram-dedicated teens, the peer pressure generated by the visually-focused app led to mental-health and body-image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, the research showed.

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 tobacco industry’s coverup of the harmful effects of cigarettes came in a session that united senators on both sides in criticism of the giant social network and Instagram, the photo-sharing juggernaut valued at nearly $100 billion, which Facebook has owned since 2012. Is.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass, said: “Instagram is the first childhood cigarette to attract teens early. Facebook is like Big Tobacco, pushing a product that’s harmful to young people’s health .

The episode is quickly turning into a scandal for Facebook reaching the level of a Cambridge Analytica debacle. Revelations in 2018 that the data mining firm had collected details on 87 million Facebook users without their permission were similarly made public relations offensive by hearings from Facebook and Congress.

“It is absolutely clear that Facebook views the events of the past two weeks as purely a PR issue, and the issues raised by the leaked research did not lead to any soul-searching or commitment to change.” It is,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the children’s online watchdog group Fairplay. The group, formerly known as Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, does not take money from Facebook or companies, unlike Facebook brings in for expert advice on its products.

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Facebook’s public reaction to the outrage at Instagram was to halt its work on a children’s version of Instagram, which the company says is primarily aimed at tweens ages 10 to 12. On Monday, Instagram chief 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 policymakers when it introduced 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.

When pressed by senators, Davis would not say how long the pause would last. “I don’t have a specific date but I have a commitment,” he said, adding that Facebook executives will consult with parents, policy makers and experts. “We want to get this right.”

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. An interview with the whistleblower is scheduled to air Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program.

Davis, a one-time middle school teacher and colleague in the Maryland Attorney General’s office, insists that research into Instagram’s impact on young people is “not a bomb.”

“This research is a bang,” countered Blumenthal. “This is powerful, amusing, persuasive evidence that Facebook is aware of the harmful effects of its site on children, and that it has concealed those facts and findings.”

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Research document released Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal: https://s.wsj.net/public/resources/documents/teen-girls-body-image-and-social-comparison-on-instagram.pdf

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Ortute reported from Oakland, Calif. Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.

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https://twitter.com/mgordonap . Follow Marcy Gordon on

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This story has been corrected to show that Fairplay is a children’s online watchdog group, not a children’s online advertising group.

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