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Monday, February 6, 2023
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Facebook is under investigation in the US for being a risk to young people

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A bipartisan coalition of US state secretaries of justice is investigating how Facebook influences young users on its photo-sharing app Instagram, and the potential harm this can do.

At least nine states are examining whether Facebook violated state consumer protection laws and “put the public at risk” by promoting Instagram to children and young adults, “although I know that usage is associated with harm to physical and mental health “, according to Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General.

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The investigation focuses particularly on techniques used by Facebook — which recently changed the name of its parent company to Meta — to increase the frequency and length of time that young people spend on the app.

“Today I join the leadership of a national coalition to dig deep into this company’s engagement with young users, identify any illegal practices and end these abuses altogether,” Healey said in a statement. “Goal can no longer ignore the threat that social networking can present to children to the benefit of their bottom line.”

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Among the attorneys-in-fact involved are those from California, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee and Vermont.

The investigation comes after a report in The Wall Street Journal, based on documents leaked by Facebook informant Frances Haugen, showed that the company’s internal research had found that Instagram had a mixed effect on young people’s health — something that company refused to admit publicly.

While some users who suffer from loneliness have reported a positive experience using Instagram, for example, the app has also been found to increase teenage girls’ concern about their body image.

The documents, seen in edited form by the Financial Times, also reveal that Facebook’s growth rate among users in key markets like the US is slowing. Young users are spending less time on Instagram and producing less content, lured by rivals like TikTok video app. Facebook previously challenged the Journal’s presentation of its research.

Facebook said on Thursday (18): “These allegations are false and demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the facts. While the challenges to protecting young people online impact the entire industry, we lead the industry in fighting bullying and supporting people who fight back with suicidal ideas, self-mutilation and eating disorders”.

The company added that it is building “new features to help people who may be experiencing negative social comparisons or body image issues” and new parental supervision controls.

Calls to improve child safeguards on social networking apps gained traction this year. At a hearing in the US House of Representatives, Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook; Jack Dorsey from Twitter; and Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, have faced several allegations that their platforms are deliberately designed to hook young people at an early age, tracking kids online and exposing them to toxic content and predators.

Facebook in September suspended plans to launch Instagram Kids, the app’s version for children under 13, after a backlash from the public, lawmakers and a bipartisan coalition of 44 justice secretaries over similar concerns.

However, the company has refused to cancel the plans entirely, saying the break will allow it to incorporate feedback from politicians, parents and child safety advocates.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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