By GQ Pan
Lawmakers are taking action on Facebook after a recent report revealed that the social media company is aware that its Instagram platform can be harmful to young girls’ mental health.
In a joint statement released Tuesday, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said they are launching a bipartisan investigation into Facebook’s knowledge of the negative impact of the popular photo-sharing platform on teenage users.
“It is clear that Facebook is incapable of holding itself accountable,” the senators said in the statement. “The Wall Street Journal’s reporting reveals Facebook’s leadership to be focused on a growth-at-all-costs mindset that valued profits over the health and lives of children and teens.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook has been keeping secret from the public its internal studies, which repeatedly found that Instagram users, particularly teenage girls, suffer from mental health and body image issues.
One internal presentation slide obtained by the Journal said that Instagram “makes body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” Another slide read that teens “blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” according to the Journal.
There was also an internal study that examined whether there was a link between suicidal thoughts among teenagers and time spent on Instagram. The presentation slide reviewed by the Journal said that 13 percent of British and 6 percent of American users attribute their self-harming desire to Instagram usage.
Blumenthal and Blackburn, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, said they are “in touch with a Facebook whistleblower” and will be using “every resource at our disposal to investigate what Facebook knew and when they knew it.”
“The Wall Street Journal’s blockbuster reporting may only be the tip of the iceberg,” they said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Reps. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) on Wednesday renewed their demand that Facebook should abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram that can be used by children under the age of 13.
“As the internet—and social media specifically—becomes increasingly engrained in children and teens’ lives, we are deeply concerned that your company continues to fail in its obligation to protect young users and has yet to commit to halt its plans to launch new platforms targeting children and teens,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook has a record of dismissing mental health concerns from the public. In March, Zuckerberg told Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) at a congressional hearing that a study that connects social media to depression was “inconclusive.”
Instagram’s head of public policy, Karina Newton, wrote in a statement that The Wall Street Journal story had “focused on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light.”
“Issues like negative social comparison and anxiety exist in the world, so they’re going to exist on social media too,” Newton said. “That doesn’t change the fact that we take these findings seriously, and we set up a specific effort to respond to this research and change Instagram for the better.”
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