Facebook is still in the hot seat, and it’s getting real meta.
In September, 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.
Hearings and a lot of questions followed about social media and mental health. Then Facebook turned around and announced the “metaverse,” a Matrix-level virtual reality that has folks concerned all over again.
The leaked docs (aka the Facebook Papers) — originally 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 who 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 October 5 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 following the hearings, 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?”
Since Haugen’s testimony, Facebook has been more or less #SorryNotSorry about the whole thing. At the end of October, the social media giant took the time to rebrand with the new parent company name, Meta.
That doesn’t mean Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp names are dead. Instead, it’s all part of Facebook’s — err, Meta’s — plan to push more virtual and augmented reality into social media. (Wait, did Facebook just gaslight us?)
The company denies trying to bury issues by moving forward with its new “metaverse,” but Haugen isn’t having it. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, she said the “immersive environments are extremely addictive” and she’s worried about how the new business may force people to release more personal data and privacy.
Despite the new name, Facebook isn’t outrunning its problems for now. The company is facing a bunch of antitrust and consumer protection lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys generals. And in one instance, Zuckerberg himself is also being sued.
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):