Today’s hearing with Facebook’s Whistleblower is the second of two hearings the Senate Commerce Committee has held on how Facebook takes its young users.
Last Thursday, Facebook’s global head of security, Antigone Davis, was angered by senators over how its apps affect young users, after an explosive report that the company was aware that Facebook-owned Instagram could have a “toxic” effect on teenage girls.
Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in his opening remarks at the hearing, “We now know that Facebook regularly puts profits ahead of children’s online safety.” And we now know that it inevitably works unfairly to protect them.
Blumenthal added, “The question that haunts me is, can we, or parents, or anyone, trust Facebook?”
As a sign of bilateral pressure on this issue, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn echoed Blumenthal in her inaugural address conducted on Facebook. “We don’t trust you in influencing our children,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Facebook researchers have been researching ownership of Instagram for the past three years. Affects millions of young users. Studies have shown that the platform can damage mental health and body image, especially among adolescents.
Blumenthal said her office created an Instagram account identified as the 13-year-old girl. It follows some easily discoverable accounts related to extreme dieting and eating disorders. Within a day, he said, Instagram’s recommendations were “exclusively filled” with other accounts that promote self-harm and eating disorders. (Davis said these accounts would violate Instagram’s policies that crack down on self-promoting content.)
Following the journal’s report, Instagram said it was Looking for new ways to discourage users from concentrating on their physical appearance. The company added that Instagram could be a place where people have “negative experiences”, the app also gives a voice to marginalized people and helps friends and family stay connected.
“What’s missing in this report is that, through this research, we’ve found that more teenage girls actually find Instagram helpful – teens who suffer from this problem find Instagram helpful,” Davis said Thursday. “Now that doesn’t mean that what doesn’t exist isn’t important to us. In fact, that’s why we do this research.”
Davis, who introduced herself as a mother and former teacher, also pushed back the notion that the report was a “bombing” and did not promise to publish a full research report “considering possible confidentiality.” He said Facebook was “looking for ways to publish more research.”
Read more about last week’s hearing Here.