In her recent testimony in front of a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, “Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from aWhistleblower,” former data scientist at Frances Haugen revealed that her former employer is knowingly harmful to children, promotes divisiveness among users and amplifies misinformation in pursuit of growth and what she calls “astronomical profits.”
, a photo-sharing app that is owned by , Inc., is popular among school-aged children and teenagers worldwide. Studies have shown that young people spend up to nine hours on and digital technology, posting pictures, streaming videos, listening to music and engaging socially.
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The Wall Street Journal investigation into the leaked internaldocuments confirmed that studies commissioned by the giant found that its subsidiary, , has negatively impacted the mental health of its users, particularly teenage girls. In addition, the company failed to act to remedy the potential harm that it is directly and knowingly causing.
Leaked documents reveal that more than 30% of teenage girls usingfeel worse about their bodies after accessing the app. Another document outlined how can contribute to and exacerbate anxiety and in users.
This isn’t the first time a study has linked teenage, anxiety and other stress-related conditions to use. Studies conducted across the globe have sought to establish the notion of “digital age vulnerability” to mental health conditions in users.
The research has been conclusive. A 2018 British study published in The Lancet tieduse to decreased, disrupted and delayed sleep, which is associated with , memory loss and poor academic performance. Another study in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded that and eating disorders are higher in young people who use outlets on a regular basis.
It is the first time, however, that leaked documents have shown the company’s acknowledgment of the harms it may be causing and subsequently failing to act.places a lot of importance on in capturing a younger audience. Adolescents and teens across the United States spend much more time on than on , and with ever-evolving features, competes with other teen favorites like TikTok and Snapchat.
Brooke T., a 17-year-old girl from New York, spends roughly six to seven hours per day onand other platforms. She was recently diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by very low body weight, a fear of gaining weight and a skewed perception of weight in general. “Every time I would go on , all I saw were pictures of perfect bodies everywhere,” she told me. “It made me feel pretty bad about myself.” When asked directly if her time on contributed to her recent diagnosis, she answered: “Definitely.”
Alarm bells have sounded before and organizations across the United States have conducted research that reflects this upsetting trend. Between 2010 and 2018,rates have doubled among teenage girls, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide rates among girls in the same period of time have nearly doubled as well.
Back in December 2017, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, chairman and CEO of, was pressed in an interview to comment on the data linking an increased risk of mental health conditions tied directly to , he insisted that “protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.” Unfortunately, the leaked documents tell another story.
Ifhas full knowledge of the harm and risk it poses to people who use its platforms, the company has an ethical and moral obligation to acknowledge it publicly and work to make its products safer for children, teens and adults. This is particularly true in light of Facebook’s recent announcement of the plan to develop a metaverse platform, that will subsume consumers even more deeply into its digital world. Simply rebranding won’t effect the necessary change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the mental health of men and women, boys and girls around the world.has helped connect so many people when social distancing has kept them apart. But if the platforms are knowingly harming the mental health and well-being of its users, companies like need to be held accountable and measures must be taken to ensure the of users.
*[The Wider Lens provides commentary on trending stories in the world of health, covering a wide variety of topics in medicine and health care.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.