A top Democrat is demanding Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or Instagram chief Adam Mosseri testify before the Senate to explain how the company plans to protect kids in light of new reports that platforms like Instagram can encourage harmful behavior in teens.
In Wednesday’s letter, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on consumer protection, called on the Facebook executives to testify in light of recent reporting from the Wall Street Journal on how the photo-sharing platform harms young users.
“Parents across America are deeply disturbed by ongoing reports that Facebook knows that Instagram can cause destructive and lasting harms to many teens and children, especially to their mental health and wellbeing,” Blumenthal wrote. “Those parents, and the twenty million teens that use your app, have a right to know the truth about the safety of Instagram.”
“Parents across America are deeply disturbed by ongoing reports that Facebook knows that Instagram can cause destructive and lasting harms”
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed herself as the source behind the Journal’s reports earlier this month in an interview with 60 Minutes. Later, Haugen appeared before Blumenthal’s committee to explain the internal reports and surveys she obtained while employed on Facebook’s Civic Integrity group to lawmakers. The hearing focused on documents suggesting that Facebook knew Instagram was “toxic” for teenage users and the platform’s algorithms could lead them to content that encouraged self-harm.
During the hearing, Blumenthal called on Zuckerberg to testify regarding the Instagram revelations. “Rather than taking responsibility and showing leadership, Mr. Zuckerberg is going sailing,” Blumenthal said at the hearing earlier this month.
The company has yet to confirm whether it plans to offer up Zuckerberg for testimony, but the subcommittee could force him to testify through a subpoena if he refuses. So far, Blumenthal has downplayed the possibility of a subpoena, telling CNBC, “He has a public responsibility to answer these questions.”
Over the last few weeks, Facebook has faced a new wave of criticism from lawmakers and consumer advocates. In light of Haugen’s leaks, Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate introduced new bills to make platforms like Facebook more liable to harms caused by algorithms by amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
In light of this growing skepticism and regulatory threats, The Verge reported on Tuesday that Facebook is planning to change its company’s name. The name change could be announced next week and would “reflect [Facebook’s] focus on building the metaverse.” The proposed name change arrives as Facebook is bracing itself for more disclosures from Haugen, according to a Monday Facebook Newsroom tweet thread.
“Over the last 6 weeks, including over the weekend, we’ve seen how documents can be mischaracterized,” one tweet said. “Obviously, not every employee at Facebook is an executive; not every opinion is the company’s position.” Facebook has yet to release additional documents addressing these alleged mischaracterizations.