NEWS16 September 2021

Facebook under scrutiny over Instagram research showing evidence of harm

News North America Technology UK

US & UK – Facebook has come under pressure from politicians after a media report that the company’s own internal research found that Instagram was harmful to teenagers.

Instagram and Twitter on phone screen

Facebook conducted and reviewed research in 2019 that found negative impacts of the photo-sharing app on young people, according to a report published by the Wall Street Journal.  

In the US, three Democrats have written to Facebook and asked it to pause any efforts to launch new versions of Instagram for teens or children.

In the UK, meanwhile, the member of parliament responsible for leading scrutiny of the draft online safety bill, Damian Collins, has said that social media companies who withhold evidence of harm from regulators would be breaching their duty of care under the bill

The draft bill was published by the UK government in May 2021 and is designed to establish a new regulatory framework to tackle harmful content online.

Under the bill, social media companies would be required to submit to Ofcom a risk assessment of content that causes harm to users.

Instagram has said that it stands by the research, which it conducted to understand young people’s experiences on the app.

In a blog post, Karina Newton, head of public policy, Instagram, wrote: “The research on the effects of social media on people’s well-being is mixed, and our own research mirrors external research. Social media isn’t inherently good or bad for people. Many find it helpful one day, and problematic the next. What seems to matter most is how people use social media, and their state of mind when they use it.”

The company also said it wants to be “more transparent” about the research it conducts, both internally and with external researchers, and that it will seek opportunities to publish more independent studies with partners.