Facebook minimizes internal research published the day before the hearing

Facebook released two internal research reports on its photo-sharing app, Instagram, on Wednesday and played down their findings, as the company prepared for two Congressional hearings next week, focused on the health effects of its products. mental child.

The reports – “Teen Mental Health Deep Dive,” published internally in October 2019 and “Hard Life Moments,” published in November 2019 – were accompanied by annotations from Facebook that sought to contextualize the limits of the research and berated its own researchers for using imprecise language.

In one slide, with a headline that read “One in five teenagers say Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves, UK girls being the most negative,” Facebook wrote in its annotation that the research did not intended to suggest a causal link between application and well-being. The company said the headline highlighted negative effects but could have been written “to note Instagram’s positive or neutral effect on users.”

Facebook released the research as it once again wrestles with questions about whether it is inherently harmful as a service. Articles published by the Wall Street Journal this month showed that the social network was aware of many of the ailments it was causing, including the top teenage girls on Instagram to feel worse about their bodies and increase anxiety and depression rates.

This has led lawmakers and regulators to call for more regulation of the social network. After the new wave of criticism, Facebook said on Monday it had suspended development of an Instagram Kids service, which would be suitable for children 13 and under.

Facebook said it provided the internal research reports to Congress on Wednesday. Facebook’s global head of security, Antigone Davis, will testify at a Senate subcommittee hearing on mental health and social media on Thursday. Next week, a Facebook whistleblower, who has not been publicly identified, will also testify before lawmakers about the effects of Facebook and Instagram on young users.

In opening remarks for Thursday’s hearing, which were released Wednesday evening, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee argued that Facebook, although it knows the risks to mental health, “was plotting to attract even more users. young people in their fold ”.

“Facebook knows that its services are actively harming their young users,” Ms. Blackburn, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, said in prepared remarks. In 2019 and 2020, internal Facebook analysts took a series of in-depth dives into teenage Instagram use that found that ‘aspects of Instagram were exacerbating each other to create a perfect storm. “”

Facebook has aggressively attempted to reshape its image this year, including using its news feed to promote certain pro-Facebook stories; keep Mark Zuckerberg, its managing director, away from scandals; and reduce the access of outsiders to internal data. The company has also decided to apologize less, people familiar with the change said.

Since the Journal articles were published, Facebook has also gone on the offensive, posting several blog posts claiming the articles lacked context or were incomplete. On Sunday, the company released a slide and said, “It’s just not accurate that this research shows Instagram is ‘toxic’ to teenage girls.”

The selective publication fueled further calls from researchers and lawmakers for the company to publish the full reports. Facebook did it with the annotations on Wednesday.

“We added annotations to each slide that give more context as this type of research is designed to inform internal conversations and the documents were created and used by people who understood the limits of the research,” said Liza Instagram spokesperson Crenshaw.

In the reports, one slide was titled “But, we make body image problems worse for 1 in 3 teenage girls.” Facebook’s annotation said the methodology was “not suitable for providing statistical estimates” and noted that the title of the slide was “short-sighted”. The company said the results were intended only to represent the feelings of respondents and “not the teenage population of Instagram users in general.”

On the 66-slide presentation “Teen Mental Health Deep Dive”, which was based on qualitative in-person questioning of 40 adolescents and online surveys of over 2,500 adolescents in the United States and Great Britain, an annotation provided in question the definition of “mental health” in the presentation.

“‘Mental health’ should not be confused with a clinical, formal or academic definition,” the company wrote.

The title of another slide said “Teens with Mental Health Problems Say Instagram makes it worse.”

In response, the Facebook annotation said: “The headline should be clarified to read:” Teens who have lower life satisfaction are more likely to say Instagram makes their sanity or the way they feel worse than adolescents who are satisfied with their lives. “

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