Senators Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal are launching a bipartisan investigation of Facebook, following a blockbuster investigative piece by the Wall Street Journal. It found that Facebook was keeping secret from the public internal research that shows that Facebook’s photo social media platform Instagram was harmful to the mental health of users, particularly teenage girls. The research showed that teens blamed Instagram for increases in anxiety, depression and poor body image. This is especially worrisome since Facebook is planning a version of Instagram for children 13 and under.
The Senators said in a statement, “It is clear that Facebook is incapable of holding itself accountable. 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.”
While it’s a welcome development that someone is finally paying attention, I don’t know which is less of a surprise: that social media is harmful to the minds and bodies of young people (it isn’t doing many favors for the minds of some adults, either) or that the people running Facebook don’t really give a hoot. Senate hearings might drag some of this out into the light of day, but if they’re like most Senate hearings, nothing will come of them except providing a few days’ worth of TV footage of Facebook executives feigning shock that anyone would think they’re not acting with the purest of motives, and then it’s right back to being evil.
While I’d like to see a miracle, like the government reining in Big Tech or Big Tech oligarchs magically developing consciences, short of that, the only solutions are much harder: Self-control (breaking yourself of the social media habit) and parenting (not letting your kids fall into that rabbit hole.) Remember, like any parasite, social media platforms live off of what they suck out of you (in their case, personal data.) If you don’t want the parasite to make you sick, then shake it off and avoid it.