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Lawmakers Investigate Instagram Following Teenage Suicide Report

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on October 23, 2019.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on October 23, 2019.
Photo: Susan Walsh (AP)

Democratic lawmakers are urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to scrap his plans to launch Instagram for Kids, citing an internal company study that said the platform has caused mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts, among teen users; especially young girls.

The demand comes from the leading legislators on the Senate Commerce Committee. announced plans to investigate the company with the help of a “Facebook informant.”

“Children and adolescents are uniquely vulnerable online populations, and these results paint a clear and destructive picture of Instagram as an app that poses a serious threat to the well-being of young people,” lawmakers said.

The letter is signed by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and representatives Katie Castor and Lori Trahan from Florida and Massachusetts, respectively.

V Wall street journal On Tuesday, it was revealed that researchers on Instagram were studying the impact of the photo-sharing app on the lives of millions of young users. The researchers concluded that a significant percentage of adolescent girls believe the app is responsible for the mental health problems associated with their self-esteem.

“We’re exacerbating body image problems for one in three teenage girls,” the researchers wrote in a slide presentation posted on an internal Facebook message board and received by the magazine.

According to one slide, 32 percent of teenage girls said the app made them feel worse. Of those who experienced suicidal thoughts, “13% of British users and 6% of American users traced a desire to commit suicide on Instagram,” the magazine said, citing another presentation.

The newspaper reports that 22 million teens in the United States use Instagram daily.

Facebook, which claims to welcome cooperation with Congress, declined to make the study available to lawmakers, saying its details are confidential. A spokesman for Gizmodo said the company would not comment on the letter.

Members of the Senate Trade Committee said Facebook was unable to take charge, saying its “growth at any cost” approach puts profit ahead of “the health and lives of children and adolescents.”

“When we had the opportunity to share our knowledge of the impact of Instagram on young users, Facebook provided evasive responses that were misleading and obscured clear evidence of significant harm,” lawmakers said.

Markey, Castor and Trahan said on Wednesday that the once-secret documents highlight “Facebook’s responsibility to fundamentally change the way it interacts with children and teens online.” The company could start doing that by ditching its plans to launch an Instagram app aimed directly at children, they said.

“As the Internet – and social media in particular – increasingly infiltrates the lives of children and adolescents, we are deeply concerned that your company continues to fall short of its commitment to protecting young users and has not yet made a commitment to abandon its plans to launch new ones. platforms. targeted at children and adolescents, ”the deputy said in a letter to Zuckerberg.

In March, BuzzFeed News reported that Facebook plans to create a version of Instagram aimed at children under 13. Instagram head Adam Mosseri confirmed that the company was exploring the idea at the time.

Facebook described this concept as a “solution” to age verification problems on its platforms; a platform with stricter control and transparency for parents. Critics say the trillion dollar business is driven solely by profit margins and a desire to attract young children to their products at an earlier age so that they can be monetized as future users – much in the same way that YouTube Kids is currently attracting younger users to 13 years old. + platform.

Almost all of Facebook’s profit comes from advertising targeted to users based on an analysis of their online habits.

The letter from lawmakers also asked specific questions to Zuckerberg, such as whether he personally verified research on the psychological harm done to Instagram. Zuckerberg was also asked to reveal any future plans at his company targeting children and how long Facebook has been researching the effects of his products on adolescent mental health.

“In light of this new evidence, we urge you to stop all efforts to launch any new platforms for children or adolescents,” lawmakers said.

You can read the full letter from Mark’s office below.

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