Lawmakers demand Facebook answer how it impacts kids’ mental health

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Lawmakers across both parties and chambers of Congress are demanding answers from Facebook about how its services impacts the mental health of teens and children.

The questions come in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday that found internal studies at Facebook had determined that its Instagram social network had a significant negative impact on teenaged girls.

The report revealed Facebook’s awareness of this impact, including an internal presentation that said 32% of teen girls said Instagram made them feel even worse when they were feeling bad about their bodies.

Instagram’s head of public policy Karina Newton responded to the report in a blog post, saying the company is looking into ways to steer users to different types of content, rather than fixating on more body image-focused posts that can lead to negative self-comparisons.

Now, a group of Democrats from both houses of Congress are asking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for answers in a Wednesday letter. In addition, leaders of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., announced a probe into Facebook over the allegations.

The Senators said Tuesday they 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.”

In their letter to Zuckerberg, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., and Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., called on Facebook to abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram for kids. The three lawmakers have been vocal advocates for children’s privacy and health protection online and previously been critical of Facebook’s exploration of such a platform.

The lawmakers also asked in the letter whether Zuckerberg had reviewed the internal studies on children’s mental health impact from Instagram that were referenced in the Journal report. They asked for an update on Facebook’s plans for a youth-focused platform and for internal and external commissioned research on the mental health of its children and teen users.

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