Is Facebook A Danger To Our Children & Democracy?
October 14, 2021
Take the time to learn what your child is learning on Facebook and other social media platforms. Just like we lock the door to our home to keep our family safe, a social media platform like Facebook lets intruders into your child’s life through an electronic window like a laptop, tablet or phone and predators know this.
Attorney General Ashley Moody and a bipartisan coalition of 52 attorneys general this past week expressed strong support for the hearings being conducted by the U.S. Senate Committee addressing the protection and safety of kids and teens using social media. Attorney General Moody is concerned about the long-term impacts of social media on youth. Those concerns have grown with the recent research from Facebook’s own internal studies showing that social media is inflicting harm—in the form of increased mental distress, bullying, suicide and other self-harm—on a significant number of kids. Attorney General Moody signed on to the National Association of Attorneys General letter urging the committee to be thorough in its proceedings and to make clear how social media companies use children’s and adolescents’ data.
Attorney General Ashley Moody said, “As a mother of a middle schooler, I don’t want social media companies targeting my son—enticing him to spend more time online; and, as Attorney General, I have serious concerns about the tactics and strategies Facebook is using to increase the length of time children and adolescents spend engaging with the platform. Inquiries like these Congressional hearings should provide the public with a better understanding of how and why our youth are being targeted by Big Tech.”
Today’s letter signed by 52 state Attorney General’s recognizes the hearings will uncover critical information about the business practices that social media companies are using to gain the attention of more young people on their platforms. Here are the contents of that letter:
October 4, 2021
United States Senate
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security
Russell Senate Office Building # 254
Washington, D.C. 20510
RE: “Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms”
Dear Chairman Blumenthal and Ranking Member Blackburn:
The undersigned state Attorneys General write to express our strong support for the hearings being conducted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security regarding “Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms.” As enforcers of our jurisdictions’ consumer protection laws, we find it deeply troubling that Facebook and other social media platforms seek to increase user engagement by conscripting our nation’s youth despite known harms to children and adolescents.
We are incensed by recent reports in the Wall Street Journal (“WSJ”) and other media outlets, which, if accurate, detail how Facebook has designed its algorithms to attract greater youth engagement. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that Facebook is doing all of this knowing its own internal studies show the resulting harm – increased mental distress, bullying, contemplation of suicide, and other self-harm – on a significant number of children, with a particularly negative impact on young girls. And Facebook is not alone. WSJ also described how TikTok allows its algorithms to direct young users to pornographic websites depicting violence against women. We are already on record calling for Facebook to stop (not suspend) its plans to establish an Instagram platform for young children. The WSJ reports only substantiate that position and frankly, call for further efforts.
Facebook and other social media platforms understand that their business models necessitate increasing the amount of time that kids engage with their platforms to maximize monetization. More engagement by the user equals more data to leverage for advertising, which equals greater profit. This prompts social media companies to design their algorithms to psychologically manipulate young users into a state of addiction to their cell phone screens. Parents and children seeking a sense of balance and well-being are forced to combat these sophisticated methods seemingly alone. This is simply not a fair fight. When our young people’s health becomes mere collateral damage of greater profits for social media companies, it is time for the government to intervene. These hearings are an important start.
We are confident that your hearings will uncover critical information about the business practices that social media companies are using to gain the attention of more young people on their platforms. The matter is urgent. Both the current and future well-being of our nation’s youth is at stake. We cannot cede such an important interest to the bottom line of social media companies.
What Comes Next
The above letter is a great show of support for the hearings and by keeping the pressure on we can affect change. In May 2021, a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging the company to abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13. Facebook ignored that request. Last week, in advance of the congressional hearings, Facebook announced intent to pause the project—that should be abandoned all together.
The letter states: “More engagement by the user equals more data to leverage for advertising, which equals greater profit. This prompts social media companies to design their algorithms and other features to psychologically manipulate young users into a state of addiction to their cell phone screens.”
Recently a whistleblower came forward and has been answering questions by leaders on Capitol Hill. Revelations brought to the surface from whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, has led to what may be the most threatening scandal in the company's history. Past controversies over Facebook's role in Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election and the social network's lax handling of user data in the Cambridge Analytica case were crises that rocked the company and spurred internal reform but with the current revelations government reform could be inevitable.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., accused Facebook of intentionally targeting children under age 13 with an "addictive" product — despite the app requiring users be 13 years or older. "It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users," she said. Chairman Blumenthal echoed this concern.
"Facebook exploited teens using powerful algorithms that amplified their insecurities," Blumenthal said. "I hope we will discuss as to whether there is such a thing as a safe algorithm."
Now that Facebook is in the spotlight it is time to let our elected leaders know how you feel and if you believe Facebook needs government regulation. Here is the link to our local US House of Representatives (https://ziplook.house.gov/htbin/findrep_house) let them know your thoughts. At the state level Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody can be reached at: (850) 245-0150. Or online at: www.MyFloridaLegal.com
What Can Parents Do Today?
Just like how many parents are more knowledgable today about what is being taught in the classroom because at home schooling during the Pandemic gave us all a glimpse of what is being taught in the classroom. Take the time to learn what your child is learning on Facebook and other social media platforms. Just like we lock the door to our home to keep our family safe, a social media platform like Facebook lets intruders into your child’s life through an electronic window like a laptop, tablet or phone, and predators know this. The website StopItNow.org has some helpful information as well as the ConnectSafely.org to guide parent’s. The ConnectSafely.org site offers a Parent’s Guide to Facebook ( https://www.connectsafely.org/pdfs/fbparents.pdf ) to help guide you.
Parents need to stay connected to their children’s cyber world interactions; regularly monitoring and responding to their children’s activities online. By practicing safety planning that includes consistent parental supervision and engagement, modeling healthy boundaries and learning warning signs of possible at-risk situations, parents can help their children participate in social media in ways that are fun and safe.