Facebook is in the hot seat again. But this time, we kind of saw it coming.
Last month, a whistleblower — who we now know as 37-year-old Frances Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook — leaked internal documents from 2019 that show the negative impacts Instagram (also owned by Facebook) has on teenagers.
The leaked docs — seen by The Wall Street Journal — show that 1 in 5 teens say that Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves. The docs also say that Instagram makes body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls. Teens also blame Instagram for increases in the rates of anxiety and depression.
For people that have been on Instagram since it first started gaining popularity, this might not come as a surprise. But the findings prompted the Senate to call two hearings (and maybe a *coincidental* outage of Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp?) to figure all this sh*t out.
Haugen testified on Tuesday in front of the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee, saying, “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.”
She went on to call on Congress to regulate social media, relating Facebook’s role in harming children, creating division, and weakening democracy to Big Tobacco’s role in harming consumers of its own. She said she believes that Facebook can change, but the company won’t do it unless it’s forced to.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook, saying Haugen’s testimony doesn’t accurately reflect the company and the results of its internal research: “It’s difficult to see coverage that misrepresents our work and our motives.”
Though Zuckerberg believes the company is already taking steps to keep its users safe, he also agreed that regulation is the most logical next step: “We’re committed to doing the best work we can, but at some level, the right body to assess trade-offs between social equities is our democratically elected Congress. For example, what is the right age for teens to be able to use internet services? How should internet services verify people’s ages? And how should companies balance teens’ privacy while giving parents visibility into their activity?”
It’s not quite clear yet what happens next, but picturing lawmakers trying to make rules for companies like Facebook is def a little cringey. (See this as an example).
The best thing we can do while we wait is focus on maintaining a healthy relationship with social media in general — whether you’re a teen or a grown a$$ adult. Spend some time reflecting on (or talking with your kiddo about) how social media affects your mood and how you feel about yourself when using it. If it’s not making you (or your kid) feel great, consider these tips from the National Alliance on Mental Health (and check out this article for more):