Facebook has defended the impact of its products, saying Instagram has “affirmatively helped” young people.
Davis, a senator 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.
One in three teenage girls who had already experienced body-image issues told Facebook using Instagram made them feel worse. In particular filtered images, posting selfies and viewing content with hashtags affect well-being, the slides suggest. It comes just days after the company paused its scheduled rollout of Instagram Kids, which had been due to launch this year for users aged under 13.
“As every parent knows when it comes to kids and tweens, they’re already online,” Ms Davis told the committee. “We believe it is better for parents to have the option to give tweens access to a version of Instagram that’s designed for them where parents can supervise and manage their experience – rather than to have them lie about their age to access the platform that wasn’t built for them.”
Ms Davis said Instagram was also testing a feature called Take a Break which “would encourage somebody to take a break” from their screen.
Previously introduced in March 2020, Facebook has known about the proposed legislation for almost a year and a half. 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.