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Capitol Hill lawmakers are pushing Facebook to drop plans to create a children’s version of its Instagram app and ask the company to share research into how Instagram affects teenage users.
The scrutiny of Facebook’s risks to the well-being of teens was sparked by a the Wall Street newspaper article published Tuesday which revealed that the social media giant’s own research revealed that Instagram, the photo-sharing app it also owns, is particularly harmful to some teenage girls.
On Wednesday, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Reps Kathy Castor of Florida and Lori Trahan of Massachusetts, all Democrats, sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns about the company’s plans to launch a version of Instagram for users under the age of 13. (Children are not allowed on the current app due to federal privacy law.)
They cited Zuckerberg’s own testimony at a March House hearing, in which he said research on the impacts of social media on children’s mental health was inconclusive.
“Although you have publicly stated to Congress that” the research [I have] as using social apps to connect with other people can have positive effects on mental health, ”your own business research indicates troubling relationships between Instagram use and health issues mental youth, ”wrote Markey, Castor and Trahan.
“Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable populations online, and these findings paint a clear and devastating picture of Instagram as an app that poses a significant threat to the well-being of young people,” they wrote. “We are deeply concerned that your company continues to fail in its obligation to protect young users and has yet to commit to ending plans to launch new platforms targeting children and adolescents.”
They asked Zuckerberg to agree to drop any plans for such platforms, including Instagram for young users. They also asked him if he had “personally reviewed” Facebook’s research on the mental health of young users and asked him to share copies of any internal and external research the company has conducted, commissioned or viewed.
Lawmakers, regulators and parents have slammed Facebook’s plans for what it calls “Instagram Youth” since the project was first revealed by Buzzfeed in March. Child safety groups and 44 state attorneys general have called on Facebook to drop the project, and lawmakers – including Markey, Castor and Trahan – have pressured the company over how it plans to protect privacy and the safety of users under the age of 13.
Zuckerberg and other company executives defended Instagram Youth, saying that since kids under 13 are already using Instagram regardless of the app’s age limit, it would be best to create a version especially for them and with parental controls.
The newspaperReports from, based on internal documents leaked to Facebook, suggest the company is aware of the risks Instagram in particular poses for teens, but has been reluctant to make any changes. The article cited a 2019 slide presentation summarizing the company’s research that read: “We make body image problems worse for one in three teenage girls.” Another said teens blame the photo-sharing app for the higher rates of anxiety and depression.
The story fueled lawmakers’ anger over Facebook’s lack of frankness when the company was previously questioned about its effects on mental health.
“Mark Zuckerberg told me he was aware of a 2019 study on rising youth suicide rates at an Energy and Trade Committee hearing – and this new piece highlights the fact that our children, especially young girls, are still struggling online, especially on its own platforms, ”Representative Castor said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., And Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Who also lobbied Facebook over child safety and mental health concerns, accused the company of “providing evasive responses that were misleading and concealed. clear evidence of significant harm. ”
They said they were in contact with a “Facebook whistleblower” and vowed to “investigate what Facebook knew and when they knew”.
Washington Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who lobbied Zuckerberg during the March House hearing on social media and mental health, also weighed in on Tuesday. She said she and her Republican colleagues on the Energy and Trade Committee requested internal searches from Facebook in March.
“Facebook refused to comply with our request and we now know why. It also leaves us wondering what else they are hiding,” she said in a statement.
In a blog post published Tuesday, Karina Newton, Instagram’s public policy manager, said the Journal article “focuses on a limited set of findings and presents them in a negative light,” but added: ” We support research “.
She said Facebook’s internal research and external efforts to study the impact of social media on well-being were “mixed.”
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