Stock Groups

Senate to grill tech execs after report on Instagram, teen mental health


A Senate panel plans to bring tech executives back to Capitol Hill following a revealing report from The Wall Street Journal about the impact of Facebook’s Instagram platform on teens’ mental health.

The hearing was announced by Senator Marsha BLACKBURN, R-Tenn. She is the ranking member of Senate Commerce’s subcommittee for consumer protection. Blackburn said the hearing would take place in a couple weeks and would include representatives from Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Snap and Google-owned YouTube.

Blackburn spokesperson said that the hearing date has not been set and did not confirm the exact attendees.

The Journal’s report, which the outlet said was based on internal documents from Facebook, revealed that the company had been aware of significant negative impacts of its photo-sharing Instagram app on teenage girls. Responding to questions about mental health and children, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, testified that he has seen research that shows “using social media to connect with others can have positive effects on mental-health.”

Although the Journal report didn’t show any negative results, the evidence seemed to be against Facebook’s mental-health narrative. That angered several lawmakers across parties and chambers of Congress, some of whom called for Facebook to abandon plans to create a child-focused Instagram product.

Blackburn explained that “what we know” is that Facebook had received a lot information from teachers and parents about the potential harms social media could cause to children. They chose to keep this information private.

Blackburn claimed that Friday was the day her staff met with a whistleblower from Facebook who could access documents and gave Blackburn details.

Blackburn stated that while both the Senate and the House have brought tech CEOs before Congress many times in the last couple of years, she believes this hearing will be unique because it is bipartisan. According to Blackburn, she will be working alongside Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. on the task. They will review rules around social media’s ability to market to kids and other statutes that protect children online like the Children’s Online privacy Protection (COPPA).

Blumenthal representatives did not respond immediately to an inquiry for comment.

“We are determined to do something in a bipartisan way that is going to protect our children in the virtual space, that will allow them to be able to use the internet, do Zoom school if they need to, do research, but to be protected and to have their privacy protected when they are online,” Blackburn said.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on Blackburn’s remarks and pointed to an earlier blog post in response to the Journal’s reporting.

“We’re exploring ways to prompt [users] to look at different topics if they’re repeatedly looking at this type of content,” Karina Newton, Instagram’s head of public policy, wrote in the blog post. We are cautiously optimistic these nudges can help people point them towards content that inspires, uplifts, and, to a greater extent, shift Instagram’s focus on the way people see.

Twitter declined to comment. Blackburn claimed representatives from other companies would attend, but they did not respond immediately to inquiries for comment.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

WATCH: Instagram’s Mosseri talks new features and antitrust concerns