Two senators, Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn sent a letter this Wednesday, August 4, 2021, asking the CEO of Facebook to share data from research conducted on the impact on children’s mental health of the Instagram kids app the company is about to launch.
“We write with concern about the growing body of evidence that social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, can have a harmful impact on the mental health of children and teenagers,” the letter said.
The senators added that during a recent hearing where they discussed children’s online safety, they saw “alarming warnings… of the addictive nature of social media and platforms’ failure to police against harmful content targeting children, including concerns about Facebook’s plans to launch an Instagram Kids product for underage users.’
“An expanding volume of scientific research shows that social media platforms can have a profoundly harmful impact on young audiences,” the senators said.
In May of this year, three groups of parents and activists gathered 150,000 signatures to call on Facebook to drop its plans to launch the app for children under 13.
Among the parent signatories, some lost their children who committed suicide after being abused and harassed on the Yolo app on Snapchat.
One of the mothers who lost her son, Carson Bride, said:
“For the last decade, we have watched the negative impact of social media on teens. I question the ethics of a company that would addict children at an earlier age while risking their social development and mental health. Once these products become the social norm for how kids communicate, it becomes extremely difficult for parents to rein it in.”
Disturbing reports on child trafficking
“According to a May 2021 study by the anti-trafficking organization Thorn, Instagram is one of the platforms most prone to risks for minors, with over a quarter of respondents reporting potentially harmful experiences, such as sexual enticement, bullying, and other dangers,” the senators said.
In June, the Federal Trafficking in Persons 2020 Report released by the Human Trafficking Institute, based on a tracking of U.S. federal court proceedings, yielded alarming findings.
For the second year in a row, Facebook was the primary platform through which sex traffickers recruited their victims for sexual exploitation. Of these victims, 65% were minors, and the remaining 35% were adults.
Instagram ranks as the second app where the most cases of underage recruitment occurred, accounting for 14% of the cases.
In their letter, the senators chastise the Silicon Valley company for promoting the vulnerability of children when trying to sell its products to its advertisers.
“Facebook’s own actions often contributed to this concern, including reports of Facebook executives pitching to advertisers their ability to single out teens that feel ‘insecure’ and ‘worthless’ and offering advertising tools that target adult themes to teens,” the letter states.
The senators concluded their letter by instructing Facebook to produce the company’s documentation to claim that its app is healthy for children.
“To better understand how Facebook is addressing these risks, particularly in light of its plans to launch Instagram Kids and its significant number of underage users, we believe it is appropriate that Facebook provide information about its internal research into the mental health and well-being concerns associated with social media platforms, as well as how it has used this research in its development of products.”
The request to share the results of any research Facebook has done on the impact of social media on children was initiated at a March hearing with Zuckerberg, who claimed his company does engage in ‘understanding’ children.
But in a statement in response to the senators’ request, the company did not directly respond to the request nor provide the requested documentation.
According to The Hill, Facebook spokesperson Stephanie Otway wrote to the senators, “We welcome productive collaboration with Sen. Blumenthal and Blackburn to keep young people safe online. For those under 13, the reality is that they’re already online, so we’re creating an experience for them that is age-appropriate, and managed by parents.”