Senator says Facebook used Big Tobacco Playbook to exploit kids

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Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Erin Scott | Reuters

US lawmakers on the other side of the aisle have recently considered virtually nothing. The exception is when the subject is Facebook.

Republicans and Democrats questioned Facebook’s global security officer Antigone Davis during a hearing at the Senate Trade Subcommittee on Consumer Protection on Thursday. Antigone, who testified in the video, was called in to answer questions about Instagram’s impact on teen mental health and Facebook’s efforts to create more products for children.

The hearings followed a series of Wall Street Journal reports earlier this month titled “Children’s Online Safety: Facebook, Instagram, and the Harm of Mental Health,” based on an internal survey conducted by Facebook researchers. Growth. These stories suggest that Facebook is aware of the harmful effects of Instagram on the mental health of young users. Specifically, according to Facebook’s own survey, 13% of UK users and 6% of US users reported their desire to commit suicide on Instagram.

Davis answered the question for nearly three hours, and several senators were heard comparing Facebook to the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry has known for years about the dangers associated with the products it sells.

“Facebook is like one big cigarette, with products deemed harmful to youth health and an early push will help Facebook make money,” Dee said. -Mass Senator Ed Markey said.

Here are the highlights of Thursday’s hearing:

Facebook’s global security chief, Antigone Davis, speaks at the White House Roundtable on Cybersecurity and Technology on March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somode Villa | Getty Images

Facebook can’t hold itself accountable

Subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal (D-Con) began the hearing by accusing Facebook of not being able to hold itself accountable. The Facebook whistleblower, who provided the journal articles and documents, “provided deep insight into Facebook’s relentless campaign to recruit and exploit young users,” Blumenthal said.

“Facebook has publicly denied that Instagram causes serious harm to teens, but personally Facebook researchers and experts have been warning for years.” Blumenthal said. “Facebook routinely prioritizes profits over children’s online safety, chooses product development over children’s well-being, and is sensitive to actions to protect children. Now I know I owe.”

Blumenthal also said that Facebook’s documents proved Facebook’s previous communications with the senator were not true.

He said in August that he and Senator Marsha Blackburn, a ranking member of the subcommittee, wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and asked: Mental health or adolescent happiness? “

“We are not aware that there is a general consensus among researchers and experts about screen time being too long,” the company said.

“The reaction just wasn’t true,” Blumenthal said. “I know the evidence that teens are harmed is anecdotal and unique to Instagram.”

Senator Ed Markey speaks at the Back the Thrive Agenda press conference at the Longworth office building on September 10, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Countess Gemal | Getty Images

Instagram Kids. Not Committed to Facebook

One of the central issues that worried lawmakers on Thursday was Facebook’s Instagram Kids product.

The project was first reported by Buzzfeed in March and further published by the Journal, so Facebook announced this week that it would suspend development of the Instagram app for people under the age of 13.

Through a hearing, the senator asked Davis if Facebook had promised to shut down Instagram Kids forever.

“Do you promise not to launch a site that includes features like buttons and followers that allow kids to measure their popularity?” Markie asked.

Davis said he was not committed and the company would investigate further which features were most meaningful to the child.

“Senator Markey, these are the characteristics we talk to experts, and we’re really trying to figure out what’s most age-appropriate and what’s not. Of course, we’ll talk to him about those characteristics. Davis said.

US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) attends a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 14, 2021, to consider US withdrawal from Afghanistan. I asked the Secretary of State.

Bill O’Leary | pool | Reuters

Facebook cherry picks the study you’ve shared

On Wednesday, Facebook released two slide decks that include a survey of Instagram’s impact on adolescent mental health. The company released those decks, knowing that the magazine was trying to release all of the documents that contributed to the report.

The magazine eventually released six decks, which provided much more information than Facebook would typically provide. Facebook also had annotations that often undermined the credibility of their researchers’ work.

At a hearing, Davis told the senator that the investigation had not been completed or that the frame was wrong. Senator Ted Cruz of R-Texas said his answers would not add up and asked whether the company plans to open all studies to the public.

“At the same time you’re telling us, ‘If you know the full study,’ you haven’t published the study, which is it?” Cruz asked.

According to Davis, the company is in the process of deciding what additional research it can publish.

“That’s why Cherry chose what you wanted to show us,” Cruz said.

Next, Cruz asked Davis about a survey showing the proportion of teens in the United States and United Kingdom who trace suicidal ideation back to Instagram. Davis said these figures were a false feature of the company’s research.

D-CT Senator Richard Blumenthal will ask questions at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and Law hearing at the US Capitol on April 27, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Tasoska Topodis | pool | Reuters

Big Tobacco Playbook

In his opening remarks, Blumenthal highlighted Facebook’s findings, showing that many teens are obsessed with using Instagram.

“In fact, Facebook uses Big Tobacco’s playbook,” he said. “It concealed its own research on addiction and the toxic effects of its products and tried to deceive us into what the general public and Congress knew, and it was equipped with childhood vulnerabilities for children. It did. “

Senator Markie reiterated those comments.

“Instagram is the first childhood cigarette intended to quickly attract teens, reduce popular peer pressure, and ultimately put their health at risk,” he says. I did

“We’re Not Really Finsta”

Like all hearings involving Washington DC and Silicon Valley, there was a moment to emphasize that lawmakers had little understanding of the nuances of the Internet.

At the end of the hearing, Blumenthal had the opportunity to ask Davis about “Finsta”. It is a term that refers to an Instagram account that is not associated with one’s true identity. Finsta accounts are often used to anonymously spy on other users’ posts.

“Do you promise to eliminate Finsta?” Blumenthal asked.

Davis paused before responding, “Senator, let me explain it again. We’re not really a finsta.”

Blumenthal asks, “Finsta is one of your products or services. I’m not talking about Google or Apple. Is Facebook right?”

“Finsta is a slang term for some accounts,” Davis said.

The conversation is reminiscent of an exchange in a 2018 parliamentary hearing. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who then retired, asked Zuckerberg, “How do you maintain a business model where users don’t pay for services?”

Facebook has become one of the most valuable companies in the world through sophisticated advertising used by most large companies to target potential customers.

“Senator, we’re advertising,” Zuckerberg said.

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