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Blumenthal Chairs Hearing on Facebook & Instagram's Toxic Impacts on Teens' Mental Health

“Facebook knows the destructive consequences that Instagram’s design and algorithms are having on our young people and our society, but it has routinely prioritized its own rapid growth over basic safety for our children.”

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, held a hearing to examine the toxic effects of Facebook and Instagram on young people. The hearing comes after reporting in the Wall Street Journal on Facebook’s knowledge of its platforms’ negative impact on teenagers and young users and after Blumenthal’s office was approached by a whistleblower with information about Facebook and Instagram.

“We now have deep insight into Facebook’s relentless campaign to recruit and exploit young users,” Blumenthal said. “We now know while Facebook publicly denies that Instagram is deeply harmful for teens, privately Facebook researchers and experts have been ringing the alarm for years. We now know that Facebook routinely puts profits ahead of kids’ online safety, we know it chooses the growth of its products over the well-being of our children, and we now know it is indefensibly delinquent in acting to protect them. It is failing to hold itself accountable and the question that haunts me is how can we, or parents, or anyone trust Facebook?”

Blumenthal pointed to a letter he sent to Facebook with U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) earlier this year, asking whether Facebook research found evidence of its platforms having negative effects on children and teens’ mental health, including increased suicidal thoughts. The company replied saying they “are not aware of a consensus among studies about how much screen time is too much.” Blumenthal emphasized: “That response was simply untrue. Facebook knows—it knows—the evidence of harm to teens is substantial and specific to Instagram.”

Blumenthal stressed that Facebook’s research showing these harmful effects is overwhelming, saying: “it is a pattern of findings repeated across sophisticated and extensive studies that Facebook itself conducted over the past four years.”

Blumenthal discussed his office’s research into Instagram’s recommendations for teens, saying: “My office did its own research. We created an Instagram account identified as a thirteen-year old girl and followed a few easily findable accounts associated with extreme dieting and eating disorders. Within a day, its recommendations were exclusively filled with accounts that promote self-injury and eating disorders. That is the perfect storm that Instagram has fostered and created.”

Blumenthal called out Facebook for failing to implement the recommendations included in its studies to reduce its platforms’ toxic effects on kids and blasted the company for its deceptive practices: “Facebook has taken Big Tobacco’s playbook, it has hidden its own research on addiction, and the toxic effects of its products, it has attempted to deceive the public and us in Congress about what it knows, and it has weaponized childhood vulnerabilities against children themselves.”