Facebook was again hauled before Congress this week, this time to answer for a set of stories published in the Wall Steet Journal saying the company has internal research showing its tools hurt kids — Instagram exacerbates body image issues for teen girls, for example — but it hasn’t really done much about that. The whistleblower who shared the research with the Journal is scheduled to testify next week, and appear on 60 Minutes this Sunday.
Facebook has said the Journal stories were inaccurate and mischaracterized the research, but there were plenty of emotional moments in the hearings. Senator Richard Blumenthal on Connecticut pointed out that Instagram latches onto young women’s insecurities and leads them into dark places, like posts that glorify eating disorders.
“How long should it take to fix these problems?” he asked Facebook head of safety Antigone Davis.
Sen Ed Markey of Massachusetts said “Instagram is that first childhood cigarette…Facebook is just like Big Tobacco.”
Davis bristled at many questions from the Senate Commerce subcommittee. At one point, she said, “I disagree with calling our products addictive,” for example.
So, what now? What next? To help understand what might be possible, I spoke to David Hoffman s professor at Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy — he’s a Cybersecurity expert. The big takeaway from our conversation was: “Enough of research that’s actually funded by the company….” To really understand the dramatic impact that social media is having on our world, and to really do something about it, outside researchers must get full access to what’s going on inside these companies, the way auditors (theoretically) can see what’s going on inside a company’s finances. Also, we discussed my favorite idea: We know these products are dangerous. Can we force a recall, as we do with cars and toys and even drugs? Click the play button below to listen, or click here to hear Debugger on Spotify.
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BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.