Senators Demand Facebook Explain Instagram’s Promotion of Posts Glorifying Eating Disorders to Teens

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that 87 million …
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Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) are demanding that Facebook explain how and why its Instagram platform promotes posts glorifying eating disorders to teenagers and young girls.

The senators sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and head of Instagram Adam Mosseri, expressing their concerns “about the dangers of Instagram, especially for young people who suffer from eating disorders.”

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: (L-R) Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) walk to a Republican Senate caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. The Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump resumes on Tuesday. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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The letter went on to highlight the recent testimony from far-left Facebook “whistleblower” Frances Haugen, who said she believes “Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content.”

“Other efforts found that Instagram not only failed to take action on accounts that promote eating disorders, but that the platform actively promoted them,” the senators said, adding that due to Haugen’s testimony, “we know that internal Facebook research documented that Instagram makes eating issues worse for 17% of teen girls who use the platform.”

“Haugen has stated that Facebook’s own research says that Instagram is ‘distinctly worse than other forms of social media’ in its harms to teenagers,” the senators wrote in their letter.

They added that complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “also indicate that Facebook has additional information about its impact on eating disorders that Facebook has not shared with policymakers, parents, or the public.”

“The stakes here are incredibly high — studies have found that eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness,” the senators continued. “More must be done to protect our kids from being exposed to content on Facebook and Instagram that glorifies and promotes eating disorders.”

The Wall Street Journal describes Facebook’s internal research on Instagram’s toxicity for teens, writing:

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues.

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

The senators are now asking Zuckerberg and Mosseri to explain to them which measures the company employs on Instagram to detect accounts or content that promote eating disorders, how many accounts have been removed from Instagram in the last year for promoting unhealthy eating, and how many users they are estimated to have seen content promoting unhealthy eating in the last year, among other inquiries.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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