Facebook search shows company was aware of Instagram damage to teens, senators say



September 30 (Reuters) – U.S. Senators on Thursday grilled Facebook Inc (FB.O) on its plans to better protect young users on its apps, drawing on leaked internal research that showed the social media giant was aware of how her Instagram app was hurting teen mental health.

The hearing before the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee was called after the Wall Street Journal published several articles earlier this month on how Facebook knew Instagram had in particular caused some harm to some teenage girls about their self-image. After growing opposition to the project, Facebook this week suspended Instagram Kids projects, aimed at pre-teens. Read more

Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of security, challenged the committee’s and WSJ’s findings on the research papers throughout the hearing, and said the company was working to publish additional internal studies in the aim to be more transparent about its conclusions. Read more

“This research is a bomb,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said during the hearing. “This is powerful, startling and fascinating proof that Facebook knows about the harmful effects of its site on children, and that it has hidden these facts and findings.”

“IG stands for Instagram, but also Insta-greed,” said Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) watches as Antigone Davis, Director of the Global Head of Safety at Facebook (not pictured) testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transport – Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, September 30, 2021. Tom Brenner / Pool via REUTERS

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Senators pressed Davis on several major themes, including the identifiable data Facebook collects on users under 13, how the company sees young users as an area for growth, and to confirm whether it knew Instagram had caused some children to consider suicide.

Davis reiterated that children under 13 were not allowed on Facebook, adding that 0.5% of teens in the company’s research linked their “suicidal thoughts” to Instagram, which is lower than the numbers reported by the Journal.

“You picked some of the research that you think is helping you turn right now,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, demanding that Facebook commit to publishing its full research on the links between Instagram and youth suicide.

A second hearing is scheduled for Tuesday and will feature a Facebook whistleblower. The whistleblower is expected to reveal her identity on Sunday in an interview recorded for the television news program “60 Minutes,” which in a preview described the woman as a former Facebook employee who left with tens of thousands of pages from research. Read more

Davis said Thursday that Facebook would not retaliate against the whistleblower for sharing confidential documents with senators.

Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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