Instagram’s algorithms may have shown harmful content to tragic teenager Molly Russell before she even looked for it, a whistleblower claimed.
The tech giant and its parent company Facebook have come under pressure since Frances Haugen revealed she knew the app worsened young people’s mental health.
An investigation is planned next year that will seek to find out what role social media platforms played in the death of Molly, who committed suicide at the age of 14 in 2017.
Her father once accused Instagram of “helping kill” his daughter after discovering she had viewed graphic images of self-harm and suicide on the app.
Yesterday, Miss Haugen suggested that while Molly might have “been following stuff related to being a little blue,” the platform would have taken her to a dangerous rabbit hole.
Molly Russell killed herself at the age of just 14 in November 2017. An investigation, due next year, will examine the role social media sites played in her death.
Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen revealed the social media platform knew the app was worsening youth mental health
The former Facebook employee told the Sunday Telegraph: “I guarantee you that with the algorithm, if she kept engaging, it only got worse.
“Imagine you’re some kind of fragile teenager and exposed to a few things, saying how worthless you are, then [you] commit a bit and it just keeps getting worse and worse. It’s bad.’
Miss Haugen is due to testify in Westminster on Monday before a joint committee examining the online security bill.
The bill will impose a duty of care on social media companies to protect users from harmful content and give Ofcom the power to fine them up to 10% of their global revenue.
Ahead of the hearing, she also warned that Facebook’s plans to encrypt some of its services – including Instagram – would make it harder for law enforcement to catch criminals.
Miss Haugen, who stepped down as Facebook product manager in May, leaked thousands of internal documents revealing how much she knew her platforms were impacting children.
It included statistics showing that Instagram content made a third of young users feel worse in their bodies.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was accused of showing no inclination to protect the public by a former employee
Miss Haugen’s intervention comes as even more damaging reports emerge about the tech giant over the weekend after she gave several US news outlets access to the confidential research.
One revealed that 10% of all US views of political material on Facebook were posts falsely alleging that the 2020 US presidential election was fraudulent.
Still, attempts to stop it had been “piecemeal,” according to a document, which rekindled concerns about the company’s role in the Capitol Hill riots in January.
Miss Haugen said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who controls the company with the majority of its voting shares, has shown no willingness to protect the public.
She told The Observer: “At the moment, Mark is not accountable. He’s in control. He has no oversight and has failed to demonstrate that he is willing to run the business to the level necessary for public safety.
Miss Haugen further cautioned against Facebook’s controversial plans to encrypt its Messenger app and Instagram direct messages.
The Home Secretary intervened earlier this year to criticize the move, which would mean only the sender and recipient can see the message.
Priti Patel warned that this would severely hamper police in their efforts to “tackle heinous crime and protect victims.”
Defending the plans, Facebook said it was to protect users from hackers and “will continue to receive user reports of suspicious messages.”
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