Facebook is in the hot seat again.
The Wall Street Journal this week published a powerful multi-part series on the company, from the company’s practice of secretly whitelisting celebrities to its knowledge that Instagram is having a serious impact on the mental health of teenage girls.
The flurry of investigative pieces makes it clear that what Facebook says publicly doesn’t always reflect the company’s knowledge of known issues behind the scenes. The revelations still managed to shock, even though Facebook has been playing dumb about various social evils over the years. (Remember when Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the notion that Facebook influenced the 2016 election as “crazy?”) Facebook’s long-standing PR playbook is to hide its dangers, society But publicly denying knowledge of its deep effects, even research finds him intrinsically enthralled.
This is all well and good as long as one does not know the internal research.
One of the biggest revelations from the WSJ report: The company is aware that Instagram poses serious mental health threats to teenage girls. An internal research slide from 2019 acknowledged that “we make body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls”—a shocking admission for a company that wants to expand to younger and more vulnerable age groups. With the plan of charging ahead.
As recently as May, Instagram’s Adam Mosseri dismissed concerns about the app’s negative impact on teens as “quite small.”
But from inside the picture was telling a different story. According to the WSJ, from 2019 to 2021, the company conducted a thorough deep dive into adolescent mental health, including online surveys, diary studies, focus groups and large-scale questionnaires.
According to an internal slide, the findings revealed that 32 percent of teenage girls reported that Instagram spoiled their body image. Of the research participants who experienced suicidal thoughts, 13 percent of British teens and 6 percent of American teens directly linked their interest in killing themselves to Instagram.
“Teenagers blame Instagram for increasing rates of anxiety and depression,” said another internal slide. “This response was unpublished and consistent across all groups.”
Following the WSJ’s report, Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) announced an investigation into Facebook’s lack of transparency in internal research that showed Instagram could be serious and even harmful to teens. That’s a deadly danger. The Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Protection will launch the investigation.
“We are in contact with a Facebook whistleblower and will use every resource at our disposal to investigate what Facebook knew and when they knew it,” wrote Senators Blackburn and Blumenthal. “The Wall Street Journal’s blockbuster reporting may only be the tip of the iceberg.”
Blackburn and Blumenthal weren’t the only US lawmakers concerned by the new report. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Cathy Castor (D-FL), and Lori Trahan (D-MA) sent their letters to Facebook demanding that the company walk away from its plans to launch Instagram for children. “Children and adolescents are uniquely vulnerable populations online, and these findings paint a clear and disastrous picture of Instagram as an app that poses a significant threat to the well-being of young people,” the lawmakers wrote.
In May, a group of 44 state attorneys general wrote to Instagram to encourage the company to drop its plan to bring Instagram to children under the age of 13. This platform primarily appeals to children who would not otherwise have or would not have an Instagram account,” the attorney general’s group wrote. He warned that Instagram would be “harmful for a myriad of reasons” for children.
In April, a collection of those same Democratic lawmakers expressed “serious concern” about Instagram’s potential impact on the well-being of young users. That same month, a coalition of consumer advocacy organizations also demanded that the company reconsider launching a version of Instagram for children.
According to documents obtained by the WSJ, all those concerns appear to be extremely valid. Despite extensive internal research and their deeply disturbing findings, Facebook has publicly minimized their knowledge, even as regulators routinely press the company for what it really knows. Is.
Instagram’s Mosseri made matters worse on Thursday when he did a less than flattering analogy between social media platform and vehicles. “We know that more people die because of car accidents, but by and large, cars create more value in the world,” Mosseri told Peter Kafka on Recode’s media podcast. “And I think social media is the same.”
Mosseri rejected any comparisons between social media and drugs or cigarettes, comparing social platforms to the auto industry, despite the well-researched addictive effects of social media. Naturally, many critics of the company jumped on the car comparisons, pointing to their widespread lethality and the fact that the auto industry is heavily regulated — unlike social media.