Senators slam Facebook for hiding Instagram risks from children


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Senators accused Facebook on Thursday of covering up and ignoring the harm its apps, including Instagram, pose to children and teens, amid growing outcry over internal research revelations leaked by a whistleblower.

“We now know that Facebook consistently puts profits before children’s online safety. We know it chooses the growth of its products over the well-being of our children,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, D- Conn. “The question that haunts me is how can we, or the parents, or anyone trust Facebook?

His Democratic colleague Ed Markey of Massachusetts compared Facebook to “Big Tobacco: pushing a product they know is harmful to the health of young people, bringing it to them early, all so Facebook can make money. “.

Antigone Davis, head of security for the social media giant, answered their questions. She testified remotely before the Senate Trade Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and secured a bipartisan discussion about what the company knew, and when, about Instagram’s effects on adolescent mental health.

Republicans also criticized the company for not doing more to deal with the many risks identified by its own researchers and employees and exposed in a the Wall Street newspaper series.

“These are the reports from your company. You knew it was there. You knew it was there, but you didn’t do anything about it,” said Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, a non-commissioned member of the subcommittee, referring to internal documents on gender prevalence. Facebook traffic.

On Monday, the company said it was “halting” work on Instagram Kids, a platform for users under the age of 13. That was not enough, lawmakers told Davis at the hearing. They urged her to engage Facebook in broader changes, including making her research public and agreeing not to launch any products for children under 13 with features that quantify popularity, such as “j ‘likes’ and the number of subscribers. They also called for new regulations on privacy and protecting children’s safety online.

Facebook pledges not to retaliate against whistleblower for appearing in Senate

Facebook criticism has intensified in recent weeks since the the Wall Street newspaper published a series of articles based on a wealth of internal research and disclosures leaked by a company whistleblower.

Among the results: One in three teenage girls said Instagram made their body image problems worse. A small number of teens have even traced their suicidal thoughts right into the app.

On Thursday, Davis said “we totally disagree with how this report has characterized our work” and that research “has shown that many teens say Instagram helps them solve difficult problems that are so common in adolescence “.

She said Facebook takes “the privacy, security and well-being of all who use our platform very seriously, especially the youngest of our departments.” The company conducts this type of research, she said, “to improve our platform, minimize harm and maximize good, and proactively identify where we can improve.”

Facebook released some of the Instagram and teen searches to the public on Wednesday night, with heavy markups that downplayed and cast doubt on some of the findings. Senators on Thursday accused the company of “selecting” its data.

Davis said Facebook is working hard to post more material, with proper privacy protections. But she also dismissed their impact, saying “I want to be clear: this research is not a bomb.”

“I don’t agree with you, Mrs Davis. This research is a bomb,” replied Blumenthal. “This is powerful, startling and fascinating proof that Facebook is aware of the harmful effects of its site on children and that it has hidden these facts and findings.”

The same subcommittee is expected to hear from a Facebook whistleblower on Tuesday who handed documents to Congress, Blumenthal said. He urged Davis to pledge that Facebook will not take legal action against the whistleblower.

“We are committed not to retaliate against this individual speaking to the Senate,” she said.

As Facebook defends tweens work, Zuckerberg hopes to change the subject of the metaverse

Even though Instagram director Adam Mosseri admitted on Monday that the company would put its plans to create a version of Instagram for kids 10 to 12 years old on hold, he doubled Facebook’s commitment to the idea.

“I still strongly believe it’s a good thing to create a version of Instagram that is designed to be safe for tweens,” he told NBC’s Today show.

The company’s aggressive stance against the whistleblower’s disclosures and public criticism illustrates how far its crisis strategy has strayed from the excuse.

“The Facebook brand is bad, and I think Facebook, you know, would admit it freely,” said Katie Harbath, the company’s former director of public policy. “But, you know, no one else is going to come and defend the business except themselves.”

Facebook doesn’t just want to play defense. He also wants to turn the page on Silicon Valley’s favorite latest buzzword: the metaverse. It’s an ambitious, science-fiction effort to further shift what we do every day in the physical world to a shared digital world.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg says this is the future of Facebook.

“In this next chapter of our business, I think we will effectively move from people who see us primarily as a social media company to a metaverse company,” he told tech reporter Casey Newton this summer.

But critics say before Facebook creates a new digital world, it needs to fix its current social network.

They have been able to weather these storms time and time again, ”said Yael Eisenstat, who worked at Facebook on the Integrity of Elections for Political Advertising in 2018.

“What I think is different this time is that I don’t think they fully understand that internal employees have questions now.”

Editor’s note: Facebook is one of NPR’s financial backers.

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