Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked questions during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and Law on April 21, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in D-City, Washington DC.
Tasos Katopodis | Pool | Reuters
WASHINGTON – Members of the U.S. Senate on Thursday reached a final decision from lawmakers over the presence of Facebook testimony: Instagram has no business creating apps for kids.
Using documents leaked to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook uses its own internal research, and eventually some senators published by the company escalate their criticism of the company and express their concerns about its impact on young people.
In her series, the journal details Facebook’s plans to create an Instagram service for children under the age of 13. A story describes an internal company’s slide deck from 2019, where it is said that Instagram has made the body problems of one in three teenage girls worse.
Although Facebook has billed Instagram plans as an alternative and safer app for kids than its flagship product, lawmakers expressed their deepest suspicions to Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis during his testimony on Thursday.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Cons, chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, told reporters before the hearing that although Facebook said it would suspend its plans, “they should promise a permanent end.”
“If we’re dealing with the real world of Facebook, where protections are more enchanting than real, there should be no Instagram for kids,” Blumenthal said. “If they were really committed to the safety of the kids, if there was real-world evidence of it, I could think differently about it. But for kids, Instagram is clearly the same.”
Facebook released an annotated version of a portion of the Instagram slide deck the night before the hearing. The agency wrote that the research image of his previous phrase “could negatively impact the negative impact of the graph” and even “ignore potential positive explanations” -for example, more than half of respondents self-reported that Instagram improves their loneliness. “
Davis tried to make the research relevant and reconstructive in the Journal report, but the senators reminded him that the data was Facebook’s own research. They also gave him quotes from other internal documents which they said were provided by Whistle Blower.
Davis said the study was “not a bomb throw.” Lawmakers strongly disagree.
“It’s an explosion in the lives of parents who are losing their children,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of R-Texas. He cited a statistic from an internal study reported in the journal that showed that teens had suicidal thoughts, with 6% of American users surveyed finding those feelings on Instagram.
“This study is a bombshell,” Blumenthal said during the hearing. “It’s strong, catchy, proof that Facebook knows the harmful effects of its site on children and that it has withheld this information and data.”
After the journal’s series, Facebook said its reporting cherry picked data and lacked critical context. In response to a request for comment on Thursday, the company pointed to two previous blog posts about the journal’s report.
Blumenthal said her staff conducted their own tests, created a profile identified as a 13-year-old girl, and “followed accounts related to extreme dieting and eating disorders.” He said that “within a day, its recommendations were exclusively filled with accounts that promote self-harm and eating disorders.”
Outside the auditorium, Sen-Amy Cloboucher, D-Min, told reporters that she was “disappointed” to see Davis’ reaction.
“Anyone who has studied Facebook and really seen the profit model, how the company got started, how it makes money … it’s all based on the data usage of their users,” Kloubucher said. “It’s all a profit model, it’s a game. It’s a profit game.”
Kloubucher said he wanted to see Facebook’s written response on how much it benefits young users compared to other populations.
Blumenthal told CNBC in an interview after Thursday that the whistleblower revelations were reminiscent of what happened to the tobacco industry decades ago.
“The resemblance to big tobacco is very telling because when we sued Big Tobacco, we believed they knew their product was harmful,” Blumenthal said, extending his remarks in his opening remarks. “And their own files show that they know it. In fact, they did the research that showed it. So the similarity is very appropriate.”
He added that both technology and tobacco have “incorporated addiction into their business models” and tried to associate it with children’s products to “replenish their customer base”.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, made the same comparison.
“Instagram is the first childhood cigarette to quickly engage teenagers, exploit the pressure of peers in popularity and ultimately endanger their health,” Markey said.
A few friends in Washington
Correspondent Laurie Trahan, D-Mass., A voice rival for Instagram for Kids and an advocate for online protection for children, told CNBC in an interview that recent revelations have made it harder to believe Facebook’s promises.
“How do we believe that they are going to design an Instagram for kids when they knowingly didn’t fix their original platform, how harmful what we know today is to young people?” Said Trahan. “So Instagram for kids was a bad idea before last week. It’s a worse idea now.”
Every lawmaker who questioned Facebook has expressed concern and urgency about the documents they have seen. A rare glimpse of what bipartisanship looks like in today’s Washington DC
“There’s no biased distinction here,” Blumenthal told reporters outside the hearing room. “And I can add, there is no sympathy for Facebook for failing to act responsibly.”
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