Bipartisan Hill Probe Launched on Facebook Instagram Research

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Architect of the Capitol)

A pair of powerful senators have launched a bipartisan congressional investigation into Facebook's alleged "coverup" of the impact of its platforms on teens and children tapping a Facebook whistleblower in that effort.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Commerce Consumer Protection Subcommittee, said they were launching that probe.

Last month, both the legislators asked Facebook for internal research on the impact of their platforms, including Instagram Kids--on young people's mental health.

That probe comes amid pushback on Facebook's plans for Instagram Kids and in direct response to a story in the Wall Street Journal that got widespread coverage.

Also Read: FTC Accuses Facebook of Surveillance-Based Ads

Under the headline and leadline "Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show, Its own in-depth research shows a significant teen mental-health issue that Facebook plays down in public," the Journal reported Tuesday that, based on internal memos, Facebook had research showing that Instagram had an adverse impact on a number of teens, particularly teen girls, almost a third of whom polled said Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies.

Facebook emphasized that a large percentage of teens were not adversely affected.

Also Read: Groups Tell Facebook To Abandon Instagram Jr. Plans

“It is clear that Facebook is incapable of holding itself accountable," said Blumenthal and Blackburn in a joint statement. "The Wall Street Journal’s reporting reveals Facebook’s leadership to be focused on a growth-at-all-costs mindset that valued profits over the health and lives of children and teens. When given the opportunity to come clean to us about their knowledge of Instagram’s impact on young users, Facebook provided evasive answers that were misleading and covered up clear evidence of significant harm. We are in touch with a Facebook whistleblower and will use every resource at our disposal to investigate what Facebook knew and when they knew it – including seeking further documents and pursuing witness testimony. The Wall Street Journal’s blockbuster reporting may only be the tip of the iceberg.”

"While the story focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light, we stand by this research," said Facebook in a blog post Tuesday. "It demonstrates our commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work we do to help those experiencing these issues."

Facebook had no comment beyond the blog.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.