Republicans and Democrats ripped apart Facebook’s global security official on Thursday in a controversial Senate hearing on Instagram’s effect on teens.
In a rare display of bipartisan solidarity, senators from the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confronted executive Antigone Davis over accusations that Facebook knew of the mental and emotional damage its practices were inflicting on children and adolescents during years and continued his practices.
It’s the first chance lawmakers have to burn out a corporate executive since a whistleblower leaked documents to Congress that show how much Facebook knew and ignored its own research into its dangerous effects on children.
“We are here today because Facebook has shown us, once again, that it is incapable of being held accountable,” said the chairman of the committee, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) at the beginning of hearing.
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) likened children’s early introductions to Instagram to “that childhood first cigarette” in relation to the lifelong addictive habits of the two.
“For teens, Instagram is worse than a popularity contest in a high school cafeteria,” Markey said. “Instagram is that first childhood cigarette, meant to get teens hooked early on, harnessing the peer pressure of popularity and ultimately putting their health at risk. “
“Facebook is like big tobacco, pushing a product that they know is harmful to the health of young people, pushing it early, all so that Facebook can make money. IG stands for Instagram, but also Insta Greed. ‘
Sen. Ed Markey (left) accused Facebook of being as addictive as cigarettes in a heated hearing with Facebook’s global security chief Antigone Davis (right)
He asked Davis to promise that Facebook will not launch apps targeting children that include social media “influencer” ads.
Davis did not respond directly but pointed out that Facebook’s existing app for young people under 13, Messenger Kids, does not carry any ads.
“It’s not okay that you don’t have answers to these questions right now,” said an impatient Markey.
Facebook came under fire last week after The Wall Street Journal reported that internal documents showed the social media company was aware Instagram was harming the mental health of young users.
Mark Zuckerberg’s company has described children between the ages of 10 and 12 as a valuable ‘untapped audience’ and even suggested that they could appeal to younger ones by ‘exploring play dates as a lever for growth,’ according to the documents. disclosed.
It was Facebook’s own researchers who alerted the executives of the social media giant to Instagram’s destructive potential.
Davis astoundingly dismissed the damaging report during Thursday’s hearing, calling it “no explosive research.”
Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) asked if Facebook would retaliate against the whistleblower who leaked the research.
Democratic and Republican senators on the Trade, Science and Transportation committee toast Facebook executive
“Senator, we would never take – retaliation against someone for speaking to Congress, that’s just not who they are,” Davis replied.
This whistleblower testifies before Congress next week.
On Monday, the company announced that it was putting development on its Instagram Kids app on hold after the Wall Street Journal reporting backtracked and long-standing criticism from parent groups and mental health advocates.
THE DATA FACEBOOK WAS SHOWN ON HOW INSTAGRAM HARMFUL YOUNG GIRLS AND BOYS
Asked about the things you’ve been feeling over the past month, did any of them start on Instagram? Select all that relates to it
41% (United States)
You do not have enough money
42% (United States)
I don’t have enough friends
32% (United States)
Down, sad or depressed
10% (United States)
Wanted to commit suicide
6% (United States)
Wanted to hurt herself
9% (United States)
Question: In general, how has Instagram affected the way you feel, your mental health?
American boys and girls: 3%
American boys: 2%
American girls: 3%
UK Total: 2%
British boys: 1%
British girls: 2%
A little worse
United States total: 16%
American boys 12%
American girls: 18%
UK Total: 19%
British boys: 13%
British girls: 23%
United States total: 41%
American boys: 37%
American girls: 43%
UK Total: 46%
British boys: 50%
British girls: 44%
United States total: 29%
American boys: 32%
American girls: 29%
UK Total: 28%
British boys: 31%
British girls: 26%
United States total: 12%
American boys: 18%
American girls 8%
UK Total: 5%
British boys: 5%
British girls: 4%
Asked by Blumenthal how long the break will last, Davis replied that she did not have a “specific date”.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked Davis why she chose to appear by teleconference rather than in person, although she admitted she was in Washington.
“This is where I was told to come, there are COVID protocols for the safety and security of my family,” Davis replied.
Cruz used his non-appearance as a club to accuse Facebook of avoiding scrutiny.
“Facebook is in hiding. Facebook is trying to avoid liability. You are not physically here even though you are a few blocks from us, ”he said.
“By the way, we have hearings every week even with COVID, so these are witnesses who want to hide and avoid us who are not physically here. “
He asked if it was true that Mark Zuckerberg was personally aware of the damaging research leaked by the Wall Street Journal, which Davis said she did not know.
A troubling data point in the leaked documents is that Facebook has received data indicating that Instagram has fueled suicidal thoughts in 6% of American girls and boys and 13% in the UK.
“Did Facebook change your policies after receiving a report that teens using your product were much more likely to kill themselves? Cruz asked.
Davis said Facebook was “continuously” updating its policies.
Blumenthal accused Facebook of doing nothing other than “small marginal changes” to tackle its problems.
One of the slides in Facebook’s internal presentation was titled “Youth Privacy: Defining Five Groups to Guide Age-Appropriate Design”.
The slide showed ‘where we have been and where we are going’ – with diagrams showing that currently people under the age of 13 are theoretically not allowed to use the site, but that in the future it will not be possible to use the site. ‘There may be no restrictions, but rather content “suitable for the user’s maturity”.
Even “young children” 0-4 years old were included in the table, suggesting that Facebook could possibly try to recruit infants to their site.
Another slide asked, “Is there a way to use play dates to boost slogan / growth in kids?” “
The researchers wanted to know if young people used Messenger Kids – Facebook’s first foray into recruiting children into their world, starting in 2017 – during games, and if so, how.
Blackburn asked Davis if their research on children had been done with the knowledge and consent of their parents.
Davis said yes, but did not say if she could provide the committee with a tangible consent form.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) said she was “alarmed” by the revelations from internal Facebook searches.
“This research has only confirmed many of our previous hunches and suspicions – social media can be dangerous to your mental health,” Murkowski said.
She added that she was “concerned about Facebook’s continued lack of transparency.”
“This committee would not be here without the courageous whistleblower who mobilized to shed light on this issue. “