WASHINGTON – Amid outrage over its handling of internal research into teenage harm caused by Instagram, a Facebook executive told Congress the company was working to protect young people on its platforms. And she takes issue with how a recent newspaper article describes what the research shows.
“We have put in several protections to create safe and age-appropriate experiences for people ages 13 to 17,” Facebook’s head of global security Antigone Davis said in a written testimony Thursday in front of a sub -Senatorial trade committee.
Facebook deleted more than 600,000 Instagram accounts from June to August this year that did not meet the minimum age requirement of 13, Davis said.
Davis was called in by the panel to examine how Facebook is handling information that could indicate potential harm to some of its users, especially girls, while publicly downplaying negative impacts.
The revelations in a Wall Street Journal report, based on internal research leaked by a Facebook whistleblower, sparked anger from lawmakers, Big Tech critics, and development experts. child 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 between the ages of 10 and 12. But this is only a break.
For some of the dedicated Instagram teens, the peer pressure generated by the visually targeted app resulted in mental health and body image issues, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. It was Facebook’s own researchers who alerted the executives of the social media giant to Instagram’s destructive potential.
Davis says in his testimony that Facebook has a habit of using its internal research as well as experts and external groups to inform about changes to its apps, in an effort to keep young people safe on platforms and s ‘ensure that those who are not old enough do not use them.
“This audience will examine the toxic effects of Facebook and Instagram on young people and others, and is one of many questions that will pose the tough questions about whether big tech companies knowingly harm people and cover up this knowledge, “said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, chair of the consumer protection subcommittee, said in a statement. “The revelations on Facebook and others have raised profound questions about what can and should be done to protect people.”
Blumenthal and Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the main Republican on the panel, also plan to collect testimony next week from a Facebook whistleblower, who is believed to be the person who allegedly leaked the Instagram research papers to the Journal.
Despite the well-documented damage, Facebook executives have always played down the negative side of Instagram and have continued their work on Instagram for Kids, until now. Instagram director Adam Mosseri said in a blog post on Monday that the company would use its downtime “to work with parents, experts and policy makers to demonstrate the value and need to this product”.
Already in July, Facebook said it was working with parents, experts and policymakers when it introduced teen safety measures on its main Instagram platform. In fact, the company has worked with experts and other advisers for another product aimed at children – its Messenger Kids app which launched in late 2017.
Focused outrage transcending party and ideology contrasts with the stance of lawmakers towards social media in general, which divides Republicans and Democrats. Republicans accuse Facebook, Google and Twitter, without evidence, of deliberately suppressing conservative, religious and anti-abortion views.
Democrats form their critics primarily on hate speech, disinformation and other content on platforms that can incite violence, prevent people from voting, or spread lies about the coronavirus.
The bipartisan stack against Facebook continues as the tech giant awaits a federal judge’s ruling on a revised Federal Trade Commission complaint in an epic antitrust case and as it clashes with the Biden administration over his handling of misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine.
Meanwhile, groundbreaking legislation has advanced in Congress that would reduce the market power of Facebook and other tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple – and could force them to unlink their dominant platforms from their other lines of business. For Facebook, that could target Instagram, the roughly $ 100 billion social media juggernaut it has owned since 2012, as well as the WhatsApp messaging service.
Follow Marcy Gordon on https://twitter.com/mgordonap