Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, faced a grilling before the US Congress on Thursday in a hearing examining the impacts of the company’s products on children.
Thursday’s hearing of the Senate commerce, science and transportation subcommittee comes after a series of Wall Street Journal reports based on internal Facebook leaks, including a story that revealed research showing the harmful effects of Instagram on childhood mental health.
Senators took a hard line against the company, hammering into the research and highlighting Facebook’s attempts to obfuscate it leading up to the hearing.
“Facebook knows the disruptive consequences that Instagram’s design and algorithms are having on young people in our society, but it has routinely prioritized its own rapid growth over basic safety for our children,” said Richard Blumenthal, the chair of the subcommittee, in his opening statement.
“This research is a bombshell,” Blumenthal said. “It is powerful, gripping, riveting evidence that Facebook knows of the harmful effects of its site on children, and that it has concealed those facts and findings.”
Blumenthal noted that his office conducted its own research into Instagram, posing as a 13-year-old girl and following accounts associated with eating disorders to see what Instagram would recommend. It found the platform sent the account further into the rabbit hole of harmful content.
“Our research shows right now, in real time, Instagram’s recommendations latch on to a person’s insecurities, a young woman’s vulnerability, about their bodies and drag them into dark places that glorify eating disorders and self-harm,” said Blumenthal.
“IG stands for Instagram, but it also stands for Insta-greed,” said Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
The research that sparked the hearing, revealed in the Wall Street Journal report, was commissioned by Instagram, which is a subsidiary of Facebook, and showed that the photo app could affect girls’ mental health on issues such as body image and self-esteem.