Last night, Facebook published two annotated slide decks in an attempt to contextualize the documents that The Wall Street Journal published this month, which reported evidence that the company is aware of its negative impact on teen mental health. These documents were released in anticipation of today’s Senate hearing on the mental health harms of Facebook and Instagram.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation questioned Facebook Global Head of Security Antigone Davis over two and a half hours, but lawmakers grew frustrated with Davis’ reticence to answer their questions directly, or provide much information that hasn’t been written in Facebook blog posts rebuking the WSJ reports.
“I congratulate you on a perfectly curated background.Antigone Davis
“It looks beautiful coming across the screen. I wish the messages that you were giving us were equally as attractive.”Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn
Davis insisted that research from Facebook and Instagram has shown eight out of 10 young people say they have a neutral positive experience on the app and that her team wants 10 out of 10 young users to have a good experience. But Senators pushed back with other findings from Facebook’s own data, like the fact that among teenagers with suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users said they could trace those thoughts to Instagram. Senator Richard Blumenthal (who serves as Chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security) said that his office did their own research by creating an account pretending to be a 13-year-old girl. Senator Blumenthal said they followed “easily findable accounts associated with extreme dieting and eating disorders.” Within a day, he said, the account’s recommendations were solely composed of accounts promoting self-harm and disordered eating.
At the end of the hearing, Davis said that she hopes the Senate will have hearings with companies that have kid-focused apps, like TikTok and YouTube.
Facebook Senate Hearing on Mental Health