Facebook, under criticism over internal data showing its Instagram app damaged the mental health of teenagers, plans to highlight during a US Senate hearing on Thursday what it argues were more positive impacts, according to the company's prepared testimony seen by Reuters. Earlier today, Facebook published two decks from the research that were cited in a Wall Street Journal report to say that Instagram was affecting the mental health of young users. Instagram has already paused its work on the Instagram Kids app following the criticism.
In a blog post updated on Wednesday, September 29, Facebook has said that it has provided US Congress with two decks with annotations, also published online, that it says were used by the WSJ report to "mischaracterise" internal Instagram research into teenagers and well-being.
At the hearing, Antigone Davis, global head of safety at Facebook, will detail the company's previously announced efforts to better protect children and teens online, including defaulting users under the age of 16 to private accounts when they join Instagram, according to the testimony.
"Our research showed that many teens who are struggling say that Instagram helps them deal with many of the hard issues that are so common to being a teen," Davis's written testimony says.
Facebook has been under fire for the past week after the Wall Street Journal reported internal documents showed that the social media company was aware that Instagram harmed the mental health of young users.
Ahead of the hearing, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn said in a statement that "Facebook knows that its services are actively harming their young users" and cited Facebook's in-house analysts who "performed a series of deep dives into teen use of Instagram that revealed, 'aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm.'"
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal called the hearing "Protecting Kids Online” following the Wall Street Journal's reporting.
Internal Facebook research shows that among teenage girls who said they had recently felt sadness, 57 percent said Instagram made things better, Davis' prepared remarks show.
Among teenage girls who felt loneliness, 51 percent said Instagram had a positive impact, according to the testimony.
In a separate hearing on Tuesday, a Facebook whistleblower will testify about the company and how it handles children's safety online at a Senate hearing featuring Blumenthal and Blackburn. The senators did not disclose any information about the whistleblower.