Skip to main content

Sen. Blumenthal’s ‘finsta’ quote wasn’t that bad

Sen. Blumenthal’s ‘finsta’ quote wasn’t that bad


We’re feeding into a narrative undermining real reforms

Share this story

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

When video of a congressional hearing goes viral, it’s often for all of the wrong reasons. Thursday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing into the mental health effects of Instagram on teenagers was no different.

A clip of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) went viral on Twitter Thursday, contextless, asking Facebook Head of Global Safety Antigone Davis if the company would “commit to ending finsta?” A seemingly absurd and laughable question to anyone under the age of 30. A “finsta” isn’t a Facebook or Instagram product; it’s a slang term used by younger users to describe a secondary shitposting account not beholden to the perfection expectations of one’s primary account and grid. There are no Lightroom Presets gleaning over a finsta post, and only your closest group of friends are permitted to follow the generally private account. 

But if you weren’t watching the hearing, “Will you commit to ending finsta?” was just another symbol of Congress’ inability to regulate some of the most innovative and valuable companies in the world — similar to Mark Zuckerberg’s, “senator, we run ads,” quip from several years ago. It’s a solid dunk and emblematic of a broken legislative system, something difficult to pass up as lawmakers struggle to pass any meaningful infrastructure funding this week.

Unfortunately, Blumenthal did understand what a finsta was and offered a proper definition of his own before asking the poorly worded question that’s now taken on a life of its own online. Now, this one bad question has grown into Facebook’s latest reasoning that Congress can’t regulate it.

“Will you commit to ending finsta?”

“Finstas are fake Instagram accounts. Finstas are kids’ secret second accounts. Finstas often are intended to avoid parents’ oversight. Basically, Facebook depends on teens for growth,” Blumenthal said. “Facebook also knows that nearly every teen in the United States has an Instagram account; it can only add more users as fast as there are new 13-year-olds.”

Blumenthal’s flub was just one moment in a relatively productive hearing focused on the mental health effects Instagram has on its young users. Thursday’s hearing came on the heels of new reporting from the Wall Street Journal last month that the company conducted its own internal studies, identifying that Instagram was “toxic” for teenage users, oftentimes exacerbating unhealthy habits and encouraging self-harm. The findings prompted Facebook to “pause” development on its long-rumored Instagram for Kids service, an app targeted at users under the age of 13.

Thursday’s hearing, despite a handful of offbase or uneducated questions, got at the heart of this issue. Both Republicans and Democrats shared similar concerns over the ways in which social media can hurt children. At moments, it felt as though child safety could be one of the first real, bipartisan regulatory blows Congress deals against the tech industry.

Throughout the hearing, lawmakers noted Facebook’s profit incentives for onboarding young users, increasing the platform’s daily active users and, in turn, pleasing investors. They compared Instagram to a child’s first “cigarette,” hooking them on algorithmic dopamine hits for the rest of their lives through like and follower counts — the social currency of social media. 

“’IG’ stands for Instagram, but it also stands for InstaGreed,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) told Davis at Thursday’s hearing. “If Facebook has taught us anything, it’s that self-regulation is not an option.”

In the aftermath of Thursday’s hearing, senators unveiled new legislative measures to address child safety online. Markey and Blumenthal reintroduced the KIDS Act, a bill that would place new limits on the design and types of content for apps targeted to children under the age of 16. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a bill that would establish a new federal tort against social media companies that would allow parents to sue them if they are proven to have caused bodily or mental injuries to children.

After Thursday’s hearing, several lawmakers told The Washington Post that they were interested in advancing legislation to tackle child safety issues online while members continue to hash out an overarching federal privacy law

“We’ve been talking about that,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)  told The Post. “This is an issue that we’re going to keep working on.”

Still, lawmakers have made pledges in the past, promising to finally rein in giant tech firms over their competition and data abuses. So far, it’s all been talk, and viral flubs like Blumenthal’s “finsta” question only undermine the real work that goes into making real change. 

As of Friday, the lawmakers at Thursday’s hearing said that they will continue to investigate Facebook’s internal reporting on teenage mental health. “We’ll do a deeper dive on the documents that we have and review some of the inconsistencies in the answers she gave us today,” Blackburn said to The Post Thursday.

On Tuesday, this same committee is expected to hold a hearing with the Facebook whistleblower who first leaked the documents sparking the company’s latest PR crisis.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.

A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.