Jim Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense, issues statement in response to WSJ article exposing Facebook's internal research on mental health effects on teen girls

Common Sense Media
Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Nearly 10 years ago, in my book Talking Back to Facebook, I wrote with concern that research at the time showed that "teen girls tend to present overly thin images of themselves on Facebook," which created a cycle of "pernicious effects" that in some cases could be associated with eating disorders, anorexia, or bulimia, and other health-related issues. Fast forward to the present day, and Facebook, now with Instagram in tow, is still knowingly operating in harmful ways, with teen girls once again its target.

The Wall Street Journal just revealed that Facebook has known for years that Instagram is directly causing mental health issues for its teen users. Yet, Facebook lied to the public about what it knew and has pulled out every stop to keep this information secret. Here's what Facebook needs to do, and do now: Facebook must release its research. It must shelve any plan for Instagram for kids. And it must stop lying to Congress.

But we all know we cannot simply trust Facebook to do the right thing. Policymakers must do their jobs too, to protect the public interest, including the health of young women and girls. We need:

  1. Independent research. It's critical that Facebook releases its research, but we also need independently funded (not industry funded) research that looks at the effects of social media on youth. Congress should pass the bipartisan and bicameral CAMRA Act.

  2. Laws that support healthy technology for kids -- and move children away from over-commercialism and endless scrolling. The federal KIDS Act would support quality online experiences for kids, and the bipartisan DETOUR Act would address problematic design.

  3. Privacy protections, that stop companies from profiling teens and youth and microtargeting them with ads and content specifically designed to prey on their fears and insecurities. COPPA must be updated.

  4. Companies building products with kids in mind, from the ground up. Requiring companies to consider the best interests of children, and requiring child rights impact assessments during product development would force businesses to take into consideration not just profits but people. These proposals are being considered abroad and are gaining ground here, like in the newly introduced PRIVCY Act.

  5. Improved transparency, so third-party researchers can assess products independently or in combination with regulators. The Social Media DATA Act is one way to improve such transparency and independent researcher access.

Facebook and Instagram must be held accountable. We call on Congress to hold a hearing and require Adam Mosseri and Mark Zuckerberg to testify.