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Blumenthal Questions Facebook Global Head of Safety on Platforms' Toxic Impacts on Teens' Mental Health

“Facebook can’t be trusted to hold itself accountable…Congress and the public must do so.”

[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, questioned Antigone Davis, Facebook’s Global Head of Safety, during 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.

Blumenthal questioned Davis about the company’s practices, pressing for full disclosure of all of Facebook’s research, and to provide access to its data to independent researchers.

Blumenthal: “I don’t understand, Ms. Davis, how you can deny that Instagram isn’t exploiting young users for its own profits?”

Davis: “…we found that more teen girls actually find Instagram helpful, teen girls who are suffering from these issues, find Instagram helpful than not.”

Blumenthal interjected, asking: “these are your own reports…will you commit to full disclosure?”

Davis replied: “I know that we have released a number of the reports and we are looking to find ways to release more of this research. I want to be clear that this research is not a bombshell, it’s not causal research…”

Blumenthal interjected, saying: “Well I beg to differ with you Ms. Davis, this research is a bombshell. 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 raised deep concerns about fake Instagram accounts, or Finstas, which young people are creating in secrecy and Facebook’s practices encouraging them to do so, saying: “You make money when kids deceive their parents, you make money from these secret accounts, you make money from heightening the metrics that impress the markets, your investors raise the stock price. How can parents trust you?”

Blumenthal also pressed Davis about Facebook’s handling of harmful content related to extreme dieting and eating disorders that may promote suicidal tendencies on its platforms. Following research conducted by his office into Instagram’s recommendations for teens, Blumenthal said: “Our research has shown that right now in real time, Instagram’s recommendations will still latch on to a person’s insecurities, a young woman’s vulnerabilities about their bodies, and drag them into dark places that glorify eating disorders and self-harm. That’s what Instagram does.”

While Davis acknowledged that Facebook is “working on it” and taking the issue, “very seriously,” Blumenthal followed up and said: “I know you take it seriously, at least that’s what you’re telling us, but all you’re doing is looking at these possible steps and with all due respect, these steps are baby steps, not even baby steps, in the direction of trying to improve Instagram and meet the very serious problems that have been disclosed.”

In his closing remarks, Blumenthal stated, “The race to the bottom has to stop…if Facebook can’t hold itself accountable, Congress must act.”