A trio of Democratic lawmakers are urging Facebook to immediately cease efforts to launch a version of Instagram for children, given a new report about company research into the service's effects on teens' well-being.
“As the internet -- and social media specifically -- becomes increasingly engrained in children and teens’ lives, we are deeply concerned that your company continues to fail in its obligation to protect young users and has yet to commit to halt its plans to launch new platforms targeting children and teens,” Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Representatives Kathy Castor (D-Florida) and Lori Trahan (D-Massachusetts) said in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The lawmakers, who previously urged Facebook to scrap plans for a children's version of Instagram, say a report in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal “underscores Facebook’s responsibility to fundamentally change its approach to engaging with children and teens online.”
The Journal reported that Facebook's internal research showed Instagram is harmful for a “sizable percentage” of young users -- especially teen girls.
One research slide that was part of a March 2020 presentation, and posted to Facebook's message board, reportedly read: “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”
Another Facebook research slide from 2019 reportedly said: “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”
Markey and the other lawmakers said Facebook's research findings “paint a clear and devastating picture of Instagram as an app that poses significant threats to young people’s wellbeing.”
“In light of this new evidence, we strongly urge you to cease all efforts to launch any new platforms for children or teens,” the officials added.
The lawmakers ask Zuckerberg to answer a series of questions, including whether he, or other senior company officials, reviewed the research. They also asked him for copies of all research Facebook has conducted or commissioned into the mental health of underage users.
The group Fairplay (previously Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood), which has been spearheading an effort to convince Facebook to abandon plans for a children's version of Instagram, called news of the company's internal research “a watershed moment.”
“We must hold Facebook accountable for the harm it has already done to teens and stop the company from going after even younger children,” executive director Josh Golin stated.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the lawmakers' letter. But earlier this week, Facebook publicly responded to the Journal's report by stating that the research into social media's impact on people's well-being was “mixed.”
“Social media isn’t inherently good or bad for people. Many find it helpful one day, and problematic the next,” Karina Newton, head of public policy at Instagram, wrote.
“Issues like negative social comparison and anxiety exist in the world, so they’re going to exist on social media too. That doesn’t change the fact that we take these findings seriously, and we set up a specific effort to respond to this research and change Instagram for the better,” she added.