Facebook: Whistleblowers, Mental Health, and Kids’ Features, Oh My!
By Laura E. Kohner, J.D.
Facebook has been on blast lately. New evidence has come to light that social media platforms are dangerous for mental health. This has led the web giant to announce several features, including prompting teens to take a break using Instagram, and “nudging” teens if they are repeatedly looking at the same content that can be damaging.
Parents will also be able to implement controls to help adults supervise what their children are doing on Facebook. This announcement was intended to placate parents following the pause on the “Instagram for Kids” project.
Fairplay, a watchdog organization for the children and media marketing industry, does not think that introducing these controls will be effective at making a change. Many teens set up secret accounts without their parents knowing. Josh Golin, Fairplay’s executive director, is not convinced that “nudging” minors to stop using social media will be effective, either. He is quoted saying, “There is tremendous reason to be skeptical, and regulators need to restrict what Facebook does with its algorithms.”
Frances Haugen, a former data scientist with Facebook testified before Congress, stating that the tech company failed to make changes to Instagram after there were internal research reports that showed there was harm done to teenagers’ and young adults’ mental health as well as dishonesty and manipulation in the “fight against hate and misinformation.”
Haugen’s explosive statements have put the social networks under the microscope. Her accusations were bolstered by thousands of pages of reports that she secretly copied before leaving her job at the internet magnate’s civic integrity unit. Haugen then proceeded to offer ideas about how Facebook could make positive changes—first by changing the profits-over-safety strategy.
As the company stands now, Haugen says that “Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy. The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.”
This explosive testimony was accompanied by a massive outage of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram for hours. Facebook said, “the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change,” and there is “no evidence that user data was compromised as a result.” This outage was not a good look for Facebook. An internet monitoring firm called Netblocks said that such a centralization of user data gives the company a unified view of users’ internet usage habits and makes the services vulnerable to single points of failure.
During this outage, the only public statement issued by Facebook was a tweet where the company stated that “some people are having trouble accessing the Facebook app.” Otherwise, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp executives posted a series of cryptic messages on Twitter. This was devastating for many people around the world that depend on Facebook programs to conduct business, communicate with family and friends, and perform lots of tasks on the internet.
Some humor has come from this whole fiasco. Twitter’s main account tweeted, “hello literally everyone,” and jokes and memes flooded the “Bird Site.” Later in the day, an unverified screenshot suggesting that Facebook’s domain was for sale, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey quote tweeted, “how much?”