Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, faced an audience grid in the U.S. Congress on Thursday during a hearing examining the impacts of the company’s products on children.
Thursday’s Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing comes after a series of Wall Street Journal reports based on internal Facebook leaks, including an article revealing research showing the harmful effects of Instagram on children’s mental health.
Senators took a hard line against the company, hammering the research and pointing to Facebook’s attempts to obscure it around the audience.
“Facebook knows the disruptive consequences of Instagram’s design and algorithms on the young people of our society, but it has consistently prioritized its own rapid growth over basic safety for our children,” said Richard Blumenthal, chairman of the sub -committee, in its opening speech. declaration.
Blumenthal noted that her office had conducted its own research on Instagram, masquerading as a 13-year-old girl and following accounts associated with eating disorders to see what Instagram would recommend. He discovered that the platform had sent the account further down the rabbit hole of damaging content.
“Our research is now showing, in real time, that Instagram’s recommendations tie into a person’s insecurities, a young woman’s vulnerability, her body and pull them into dark places that glorify the disorder. diet and self-injury, ”said Blumenthal.
The research revealed in the Wall Street Journal report was commissioned by Instagram, which is an affiliate of Facebook, and showed that the photo app could affect girls’ mental health on issues such as body image and self esteem.
The Facebook head of research refuted the WSJ’s revelations, saying it was “just not accurate” that the company’s research showed Instagram was toxic to teenage girls. But the company has put on hiatus a product it was developing for users under the age of 13, called Instagram Kids.
“Although we are convinced of the need to develop this experience, we have decided to put this project on hold,” wrote Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, in a blog post.
On Thursday, Facebook also released two research slideshows that it says are the “primary focus” of the WSJ’s “distortion” of its work. The Journal responded by releasing the slides in full, which paint a grim picture of what Facebook knew about the negative impact of its products on teenage girls.
Davis at the hearing declined to say how long Facebook would pause plans for Instagram Kids or rebuffed arguments that it would be abandoned altogether.
“We know that young people under the age of 12 are already online on apps that are not designed for them,” she said. “We want to give their parents the supervision tools and information they need to manage the time they spend. “
Thursday’s hearing marks the latest congressional investigation in a few tumultuous years for Facebook, which has been forced to send executives to the Hill to testify repeatedly on topics such as misinformation and antitrust issues.
Next week, lawmakers are expected to hear from the whistleblower who provided the internal reports to the Journal.
Child online safety advocates have called the Instagram for Kids break a victory, but are urging the company to abandon plans altogether.
“Don’t get me wrong, they’re still going to try to build it,” said Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense, a nonprofit children’s media watchdog. “The only thing they care about is hooking kids up when they’re most vulnerable, keeping them on the platform, and having access to as much of their personal data as possible. “
“It is their economic model that generates billions of dollars and they are not going to jeopardize it,” he added.