Facebook grilled over mental health impact on kids

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Facebook has defended the impact of its products, saying Instagram has “affirmatively helped” young people.

Antigone Davis, its global head of safety, testified to the US Senate about child protection.

It comes after a leak exposed how Instagram’s own research found the platform could harm children’s wellbeing.

Previously, Instagram boss Adam Mosseri, said the app’s affect on teen mental health were “quite small”.

The committee opened by reiterating Facebook’s own research – first reported on by the Wall Street Journal – which found Instagram could have a negative impact on body image and self esteem. It said that teens “blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.”

“We conduct this research, to make our platform better to minimise the bad, and maximise the good and to proactively identify where we can improve,” Ms Davis said in her testimony.

“We want our platforms to be a place for meaningful interactions with friends and family, and we cannot achieve that goal if people do not feel safe.”

‘Defensively delinquent’

Senator Richard Blumenthal, the chair of the subcommittee on Senate commerce, science, and transportation subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety, and data security, highlighted how Facebook had in August denied it was aware of any research that showed a negative correlation.

“We know it chooses the growth of its products over the well being of our children,” he said. “And we now know that it is in defensively delinquent and acting to protect them. It is failing to hold itself accountable and the question that haunts me is how can we our parents or anyone trust Facebook.”

Facebook – who owns Instagram – disputes the WSJ’s reporting.

“It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is “toxic” for teen girls,” Pratiti Raychoudhury, head of research at Facebook, wrote in a blog post.

“The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced.”

Facebook released two decks of slides around the research and admitted that “one exception was body image”.


Facebook released some of its research in a blog


Its own research showed one in three teenage girls they surveyed who had already experienced body image issues reported that using Instagram made them feel worse.

The documents suggest that, in particular filtered images, posting selfies and viewing content with hashtags affected wellbeing.

Instagram Kids

It comes just days after the company paused its scheduled rollout of Instagram Kids, which was due to launch this year for users aged under 13.

“As every parent knows when it comes to kids and tweens, they’re already online,” Ms Davis added in her testimony. “We believe it is better for parents to have the option to give tweens access to a version of Instagram, that’s designed for them, where parents can supervise and manage their experience – rather than to have them lie about their age, to access the platform that wasn’t built for them.”

The whistleblower who leaked the documents to the Wall Street Journal will testify in a separate hearing next week.

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