EXCLUSIVE: Rep. Ken Buck Demands Zuckerberg Hand Over Research Into Instagram’s Effects On Eating Disorders, Child Exploitation

Ailan Evans

Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck demanded Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hand over research into Instagram’s effects on teen users in a letter sent Thursday and obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Leaked documents published by The Wall Street Journal in September detailed some of Facebook’s research into how its image-sharing platform Instagram affects the mental health of teen girls, including how the platform can exacerbate suicidal tendencies and contribute to eating disorders.

The research showed, among other things, that Instagram contributed much more to negative mental health than other social media platforms.

Buck, who serves as Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, urged Zuckerberg to release all of Facebook’s research into Instagram’s effects on teen mental health, requesting information on how the platform contributes to eating disorders, anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, and other mental health issues.

“Your company’s hypocrisy and immense apathy toward the detrimental impacts Instagram has on children’s wellbeing is astounding,” Buck wrote.

Buck also requested internal company studies on how Instagram’s algorithms promote overly sexualized portrayals of minors. Facebook removed 1.4 million pieces of content in the second quarter of 2021 it deemed to be sexually exploiting children, according to its transparency reports.

Buck’s request is considerably beyond the scope of the documents leaked to The Wall Street Journal, and Facebook has previously been reluctant in sharing information on the inner workings of its platform with third parties, removing the accounts of New York University researchers who were scraping Facebook user data to study political ads on the platform.

When reached for comment on the letter, Facebook pointed the Daily Caller News Foundation to a post by Facebook’s Head of Research Pratiti Raychoudhury that pushed back on The Wall Street Journal’s conclusion that Instagram was harmful to children. Mark Zuckerberg personally addressed issues raised by the leaked research in a blog post Tuesday, disputing the media’s characterization of it.

“As we wrote in our Newsroom post explaining this: ‘The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced,’” Zuckerberg wrote. “In fact, in 11 of 12 areas on the slide referenced by the Journal — including serious areas like loneliness, anxiety, sadness and eating issues — more teenage girls who said they struggled with that issue also said Instagram made those difficult times better rather than worse.”

Facebook executives Antigone Davis and Steve Satterfield both refused to commit to release the full extent of Facebook’s research into Instagram’s harms when questioned by the Senate.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn are currently conducting an investigation into Facebook’s knowledge of Instagram’s harms with help of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who testified before a Senate Commerce subcommittee Tuesday.

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