ICYMI: Internal Facebook Documents Published by Wall Street Journal Highlight Need for Trahan’s Social Media DATA Act
Washington, September 14, 2021
LOWELL, MA – Today, the Wall Street Journal published internal Facebook documents and communications showing that the company is well aware of the negative impacts Instagram is having on young users’ mental health. The in-depth research was conducted in-house and has been shielded from the public by Facebook, which routinely releases portions of internal research casting Facebook and its services in a positive light while also refusing to release full data sets. This pattern has proven that Facebook cannot be trusted and speaks to the growing need for outside independent research on consumer harms.
According to the Journal, “For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls.” However, the report goes onto say that, “The documents also show that Facebook has made minimal efforts to address these issues and plays them down in public.”
Independent researchers, watchdogs, regulators, and lawmakers have repeatedly called on Facebook to release full, unfiltered internal research findings rather than cherry-picking positive statistics that benefit the company. Instead, as the Journal notes, “In public, Facebook has consistently played down the app’s negative effects on teens, and hasn’t made its research public or available to academics or lawmakers who have asked for it.”
In responding to the Wall Street Journal’s story, Congresswoman Lori Trahan (MA-03) said, “Facebook ’s internal documents show that the company’s failure to protect children on Instagram – especially young girls – is outright neglect. Facebook has no business developing new social media platforms designed for children when they can’t keep their own house in order. It’s also clear that Facebook’s refusal to release full internal research on how users are impacted on its platforms is very problematic. Without complete data access, independent researchers can’t fully detail the harm users face. That must change.”
Trahan, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, introduced the Social Media Disclosure and Transparency of Advertisements (DATA) Act in May to require that large platforms utilizing digital advertising maintain an accessible database for academic researchers and set uniform standards for the types of data that must be included. Notably, the legislation would also establish and authorize funding for a working group overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) responsible for ensuring that research conducted with confidential data is consistent with consumers’ rights to privacy.
Support for the Social Media DATA Act continues to build as House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13), Congressman Tony Cardenas (CA-29), and Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09) have cosponsored the legislation, joining Representatives Kathy Castor (FL-18), Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), and Jamie Raskin (MD-08).
The list of outside organizations supporting Trahan’s legislation also grew with the recent endorsements of ParentsTogether, Global Exchange, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Countering Digital Hate, Avaaz, and Joshua Tucker, Co-Director of the New York University research team whose access to Facebook data was shut down last year.