Facebook we are good for defending society even more vulnerable after a recent Wall Street Journal report

At this point, it’s not really exactly surprising that social media platforms like Facebook can have negative effects on society. For years, journalists, politicians, social scientists – and even biologists and ecologists – raises concerns about Facebook’s influence on our collective well -being. And Facebook always is self -defense by insisting that it is a net benefit to society because of how it unites people.

But a new series of reports from the Wall Street Journal, “Facebook files, ” provides damaging evidence that Facebook has studied and has long known that its products cause measurable, real-world damage-including in mental health in adolescents – and subsequently suppressed that research while denying and minimizing that harm to the public. The revelations, which only reinforce the case that a growing chorus of lawmakers and regulators have made up for the destruction of Facebook or otherwise severely limited its power as a social media giant, may represent at some point in the company’s transformation.

Already, the Journal’s reporting has provoked consequences for Facebook: A investigates the bipartisan Senate committee The impact of Instagram on teens, and a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) has called for Facebook to stop all development of the Instagram for Kids product for kids under 13, which BuzzFeed News first revealed the company progressed in March.

“We negotiated with a Facebook whistleblower and used every resource we could to investigate what Facebook knew and when they found out-including finding more documents and continuing to verify the witness, “read a joint statement from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D- CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Tuesday. “Reporting on the Wall Street Journal’s blockbuster could just be the tip of the iceberg.”

It’s unclear what impact these efforts will have on Facebook’s policy decisions and below. The investigations are in their early stages, and it’s easy to tell if they will directly lead to any new laws or other regulations.

Instagram’s public policy chief writes about a company blog post on Tuesday that the Journal’s reporting “focuses on a limited set of findings and throws it in a negative light,” and that the fact that Instagram’s research into the internal matter reflects it’s “commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues that young people can struggle with. ”

In the long run, the consequences for Facebook will be less measurable, but probably even more devastating. These findings about the company have further damaged what little trust remains in politicians – who have long been asking Facebook for specific information about the platform’s impact on mental health. The company refuses to provide it, even though in many cases it has all the answers.

Take, for example, this back and forth in the middle Mark Zuckerberg and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) at a congressional hearing on social media in March 2021.

Sen. explained. Rodgers: Do you agree that spending too much time in front of screens, passively wasting space, is detrimental to children’s mental health?

Mark Zuckerberg: The congressman, the research I’ve seen about it suggests that if people use computers and social –

Sen. explained. Rodgers: Can you answer yes or no? I’m sorry. Can you use yes or no?

Mark Zuckerberg. I don’t think the research is conclusive on that. But I can summarize what I know, if that helps.

Zuckerberg goes on to say, “overall, the research we’ve seen shows that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental health benefits and benefit in helping people. people who feel more connected and less alone. “

He did not mention any side effects his own team has seen on Instagram over the past three years, including in this study of teenage users, 32 percent of girls who teenagers say that if they don’t feel good about their bodies, they do Instagram. feel worse.

If followed by Sen. Rodgers and other Republicans took Facebook and asked about the company’s in -depth research on the effects of its products on mental health, the company did not share the research results on Instagram, according to Bloomberg, nor did Sen. Edey share it with them if his office also asked Facebook to provide any internal investigation about the matter in April, according to a letter Markey’s office provided to Recode.

“This is a profound issue for kids and teens,” said Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media, which is a promoter of studying the effects of technology on children and tin -year. “The fact that Facebook knew the research, did the research, and then hid it … it came to mind,” he told Recode.

Other known condemnation from the Journal’s reporting was accompanied by a discovery that the company had a VIP program allowing celebrities and politicians to violate its laws, and that in 2018, Facebook tweaked its algorithm in a way that encourages people to share more angry content. In each case, Facebook’s own staff found systematic evidence of serious issues, but when they warned executives-including Mark Zuckerberg-about it, most ignored it.

For many years, Facebook’s main line of defense in criticizing any negative impact that products could cause was that social media, like other technological innovations, could cause others harm – but good outweighs evil.

In a recent conversation with my partner Peter Kafka sa Media change podcast, Instagram head Adam Mosseri teaches the way it is on social media assisted in social justice actions such as Black Lives Matter and Me too. And he compared Facebook to the invention of the car.

“Cars have a positive or negative consequence. We understand that. We know that more people die than if not because of car accidents,” Mosseri said. “But for the most part, cars do. and more value to the world than they destroyed. And I think social media is the same. ”

There is no denying that social media can accelerate social change. It can also be a useful way for people to communicate with their friends and family – and actually, as Zuckerberg told Congress, can help people feel less alone.

However, in some cases, the question is whether the public will accept the reasoning as an excuse for the company to have free experimentation to our common good, measure the harm, and put the public in the dark about what they know- as they continue to garner record revenue of nearly $ 30 billion in a quarter.

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