WASHINGTON (WFSB) - Connecticut's senior senator was among those in Congress who grilled a Facebook executive over the social media company's impact on children.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Technology Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, participated in a hearing on Thursday.
The hearing came two weeks after a report indicated that Facebook was aware that Instagram, which it owns, could have a "toxic" effect on teen girls.
“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?”
The hearing, featuring Facebook's global head of safety, Antigone Davis, was the first of two that the subcommittee is holding on how the social media giant approaches its younger users. Next week, the committee is expected to receive testimony from a Facebook whistleblower.
Blumenthal and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, sent a letter to Facebook asking about whether its own research showed a negative effect its platforms had on the mental health of children and teens. The senators said Facebook told them the company found no such consensus.
“That response was simply untrue," Blumenthal said. "Facebook knows. It knows the evidence of harm to teens is substantial and specific to Instagram.”
Blumenthal said his 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," he said. "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.”
Blackburn agreed with Blumenthal.
Instagram is pressing pause on plans to develop a version of its service for kids under 13 after facing pressure from lawmakers to back down on the effort and new questions about the impact the photo-sharing service has on teen girls.
"We do not trust you with influencing our children," she said.
Davis responded by saying that while the platforms could be a place where people have negative experiences, they also give a voice to marginalized people as well as help friends and family stay connected.
"What's been lost in this report is that in fact with this research, we've found that more teen girls actually find Instagram helpful, teen girls who are suffering from these issues find Instagram helpful than not," Davis said. "Now that doesn't mean that the ones that aren't, aren't important to us. In fact, that's why we do this research."
Days before the hearing, Instagram announced the suspension of its development of an Instagram app for children.