Watch live: Facebook grilled by lawmakers over mental health impact on children – CNET


Facebook owns Instagram, a social media app popular among teens.

Angela Lang/CNET

US lawmakers are pressing Facebook about the harmful effects its services could have on children, especially teenagers.

A Senate hearing, titled Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms, comes after The Wall Street Journal recently published a series of stories about how the social network knows that its platforms cause harm but downplays this publicly. One of the stories said Facebook-owned Instagram’s internal research shows that photo-sharing app specifically hurts the mental health of teen girls, including about their body image. 

“Facebook has shown us once again that it is incapable of holding itself accountable,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, said Thursday. “We know it chooses the growth of its products over the well being of our children.”

The hearing is yet another example of the scrutiny on the world’s largest social network. US lawmakers of both political parties have been pressing tech platforms more aggressively about the impact they have on young users. Blumenthal said Thursday’s hearing is intended to help lawmakers draft legislation that will prompt social networks like Facebook to take action. 

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, said that Facebook has lost their trust and that lawmakers will hold the social network accountable. 

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Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, said the company “strongly disagrees” with The Wall Street Journal’s characterization of the company’s research, noting that its internal studies also showed positive impacts the app has on teens. Facebook released some of the internal research publicly on Wednesday evening, ahead of the hearing.

“I want to be clear that this research is not a bombshell. It’s not causal research,” she said. 

Blumenthal pushed back, stating the research was “powerful, gripping, riveting evidence” that Facebook knew of the harms its platforms have on children. 

Instagram on Monday said it would pause work on a children’s version of its app. Davis said the company has been working on this project to give parents more control over their children’s social media accounts. 

“We recognize how important it is to get this right and we’ve heard your concerns, which is why we announced that we are pausing the project to take more time,” she said.

Thursday’s hearing is one of several that the subcommittee has planned. Lawmakers are also seeking answers from other social networks. On Oct. 5, a Facebook whistleblower is scheduled to testify before US lawmakers. 

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