Technology

Senate grills tech supervisor after report on Instagram, teen psychological well being

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A Senate panel plans to bring tech executives back to Capitol Hill after an insightful report by the Wall Street Journal on the impact of Facebook’s Instagram platform on teenage mental health.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Senior member of the Senate Consumer Protection Trade Subcommittee, announced the hearing in an interview on CNBC’s Closing Bell. Blackburn said the hearing will take place in a couple of weeks and will include representatives from Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Snap and YouTube owned by Google.

A Blackburn spokesman said a hearing and the specific participants of the companies have not yet been confirmed.

The journal’s report, based on internal documents from Facebook, found that the company was aware of the significant negative impact its Instagram photo sharing app had on teenage girls. At a March hearing, when asked about children and mental health, CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified that research he saw shows that “using social apps to connect with other people has positive mental health benefits may have”.

Although the research cited in the journal’s report didn’t show entirely negative effects, it appeared to contradict Facebook’s mental health narrative. That angered several lawmakers in the parties and chambers of Congress, some of which were demanding that Facebook abandon plans to develop a child-centric Instagram product.

“What we do know is much of this anecdotal information we received from parents, teachers and pediatricians about the harm social media has to children that Facebook was aware,” said Blackburn. “You have chosen not to make this public.”

Blackburn said her staff met on Friday with a whistleblower who worked for Facebook and had access to documents reported by the journal.

Although both the House and Senate have brought technology CEOs to Congress several times in the past few years, Blackburn said she expected this hearing to be noticed because of its bipartisan nature. She said she was working with the subcommittee chairman, Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., On the effort, and the two will look at the rules on how social media can market to children, as well as laws designed to protect them online , such as the Children’s Online Privacy Policy (COPPA).

Blumenthal representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are determined to do something across parties that will protect our children in virtual space, that will enable them to use the Internet, to zoom in if necessary, to do research, but to be protected.” and protect their privacy when they are online, “Blackburn said.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on Blackburn’s remarks, referring to an earlier blog post in response to the journal’s coverage.

“We’re looking for ways to encourage [users] look at different topics when viewing this type of content repeatedly, “wrote Karina Newton, director of public policy at Instagram, in the blog post.” We are cautiously optimistic that these nudges will help keep people aware of the content make that inspire and uplift them and, to a greater extent, will change the part of Instagram culture that focuses on what people look like. “

Twitter and Snap spokespersons declined to comment on the hearing. Representatives of the other companies Blackburn said would be invited did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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