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Monday, August 8, 2022

Despite internal research released on the eve of hearing, Facebook downplays its findings

Facebook on Wednesday released two internal research reports about its photo-sharing app, Instagram, and downplayed the conclusions of the reports as the company prepared for two congressional hearings scheduled for next week that will focus on the effects of its products on children’s mental health.

“Teen Mental Health Deep Dive,” published internally in October 2019, and “Hard Life Moments,” published externally in November 2019, were accompanied by annotations from Facebook, which sought to contextualize the limitations of the research and criticized its own researchers for using imprecise language in their findings.

According to Facebook’s commentary on one slide, which featured the headline “One in five teenagers believe that Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves, with UK females being the most negative,” the study was not meant to imply a direct connection between the platform and overall well-being. Rather from highlighting negative impacts, the firm claims the title could have been written “to draw attention to the positive or neutral effect of Instagram on users.”

While Facebook continues to wrestle with the issue of whether it is fundamentally detrimental as a service, the study was published at the same time. According to articles published by The Wall Street Journal this month, Instagram was aware of many of the problems it was creating, including the fact that it was driving adolescent females to feel less confident about their bodies and increasing rates of anxiety and despair.

Because of this, legislators and authorities have called for more oversight of the social media platform. Facebook said on Monday that it has halted development of an Instagram Kids service, which would have been targeted for children aged 13 and under, in response to the fresh barrage of criticism.

On Wednesday, Facebook said that it had given the internal research papers to Congress. On Thursday, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global director of safety, will appear before a Senate subcommittee on mental health and social media, according to the organization. Next week, a Facebook whistle-blower, who has not been named publicly, will speak before legislators on the impact of Facebook and Instagram on teenage users.

Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee claimed in her opening comments for Thursday’s session, which were published late Wednesday, that Facebook, despite being aware of the mental health dangers, “was plotting to attract even younger people into their fold.”

This year, Facebook has made a concerted effort to improve its image, including promoting certain pro-Facebook articles on its News Feed, separating its top executive, Mark Zuckerberg, from controversies, and restricting outsiders’ access to internal data. According to individuals with knowledge of the change, the business has also chosen to apologies less often.

Researchers and legislators have continued to demand for the business to disclose the whole findings as a result of the selective publication. With the annotations, Facebook accomplished just that on Wednesday.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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