Congress maintains its grip on the internet.This time, the pretext was to address mental health issues of teens who use Instagram. U.S. legislators don’t need to be pushed for action these days. Every few weeks—and sometimes more frequently—Congress holds new “Big Tech” hearings, designed to give them opportunities for showboating and pushing the same grab bag of internet regulations.
Yesterday’s hearing by the Senate subcommittee on Facebook was nothing but typical. Led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D–Conn.) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R–Tenn.), members of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security spewed the same old pre-packaged talking points—algorithms are bad, technology is addictive, think of the children, this legislation I introduced will save democracy—with little regard for the actual facts (or witnesses) at hand.
It was evident that many of the comments were simply senators trying to make a big deal about Facebook and tech. Blumenthal stated that Facebook and Big Tech faced a Big Tobacco moment, while reminiscing on his years of suing cigarette firms. Earlier this week Facebook had a service outage, “but for years it has had a principles outage” said Sen. Ed Markey (D–Mass.(). “The children of America are hooked on their product,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R–Miss.).
Senators repeatedly made broad and sometimes absurd allegations against Facebook, asking Frances Haugen (ex-Facebook employee) questions. Does CEO Mark Zuckerberg not “the algorithm design in chief?” Blumenthal asked Blumenthal as if Facebook’s chief is programming Instagram to display certain content for teens. Facebook wants to get kids on Facebook young so that they have a greater “lifetime value” as users. Blackburn asked the question even though they admitted under oath that a Facebook worker had stated that that was not what they believed.
Haugen had a knack for saying sympathizing things, but not actually agreeing with them (i.e. No, Zuck doesn’t personally write Instagram algorithms, but he did create a culture where metrics matter…) and sometimes even outright denied them (no, to her knowledge, Facebook did not keep kids’ data after deleting their accounts, she said). Haugen was not the only one who made grandstanding statements about Facebook’s disregard for safety and profits. She also provided very little information to anyone being called a whistleblower.
She revealed that Facebook internal research found that teens, particularly teenage girls, feel negative about using Instagram. This is the biggest bombshell. The news has been treated as a major revelation by the media and lawmakers. They conveniently overlook the fact that many teenagers feel lonely, competitive and insecure.
However, there isn’t much evidence that Instagram is. uniquelyIt is worse than any other social media or countless factors that are not internet-enabled (fashion magazines and celebrity culture in particular, etc.). There is no reason to believe that teens will be disconnected from Instagram, which would make it difficult for them to experience the same feelings. Teens have hundreds of options to connect with their peers, or feel as if they are failing to do so. There is also plenty of information available that teens can access without Facebook.
Senators raised concerns yesterday about teens using Instagram to find extreme dieting information. However, easily accessible pro-ana content has been an integral part of the internet ever since I was a teenager. I’m almost forty years old.
Nonetheless, senators yesterday did their now-typical hand-wringing about algorithms (“There is a question … if there is such a thing as a safe algorithm,” said Blumenthal in opening statements). The senators also used the disingenuous, but common, trick to condemn a company that prohibits the same underage users it claims it will ban.
Blackburn kept returning to the fact Facebook had removed hundreds of thousands from users under 13 years old, as per its minimum age guidelines. This is what we want. But oh no—in Blackburn’s warped logic, the very fact that these kids (lied about their age and) created accounts in the first place is Facebook’s fault. They should have been able to tell their true age.
It seems that tech companies have to possess magical abilities in order to satisfy legislators. These shenanigans have a scary underside. By having such unrealistic expectations for tech companies—expectations that they try to convince the public are just Use common sense—lawmakers can easily pivot to suggesting that a failure to meet these expectations (to magically divine user ages or whatever other absurd thing is being touted) necessitates giving more control to legislators, censoring more speech, collecting more private information about users, etc.
To ensure that no 12-year-olds or eleven-year-olds are joining Instagram, each user must have a valid ID issued by the government.
Legislators often want to kill internet anonymity. Also, lawmakers could threaten businesses that refuse to comply with their requests by weakening Section 230. And so do making tech companies share more user data with regulators, letting Congress decide what sorts of content can be seen on social media, and giving regulatory agencies more room to put tech companies on trial— a cross-agency fishing expedition that will hopefully turn up something senators can use to justify all the time they’ve wasted on this.
All of the solutions presented at yesterday’s hearing were not likely to solve Facebook’s problems. It was all about legislators getting what they want.
Zuckerberg, in a statement following the hearing, decried “the false image of the company being painted”. He also rebutted many senators’ claims.
Many claims are absurd. We wouldn’t create an industry-leading program of research to study these critical issues if we decided to ignore it. If we didn’t care about fighting harmful content, then why would we employ so many more people dedicated to this than any other company in our space—even ones larger than us? Why would we establish an industry standard for transparency on our activities and reports if we didn’t want to hide the results? If social media was as important in polarizing societies as people believe, why is polarization increasing in the US when it’s flattening or declining in other countries that use social media as much?
The core of the accusations lies in our belief that safety and wellbeing are more important than profit. This is simply not true. One example is the Meaningful Social Interactives (MSI) change that we added to our News Feed. This move has come under fire. This change showed fewer viral videos and more content from friends and family—which we did knowing it would mean people spent less time on Facebook, but that research suggested it was the right thing for people’s well-being. What would a company that is focused solely on profit over the welfare of its employees do with such a thing?
It is absurd to argue that content we promote makes people mad for the sake of profit. Advertising is a way for us to make money. Advertisers consistently state that they do not want their ads near any content that could be considered harmful or more angry. It is rare that I have ever seen a tech company set out to create products that cause people anger or depression. All of the morals, incentives and products point in this direction.
In an earlier post, this company also refuted the notion that Instagram’s research was only negative for teens.
Research actually showed that teens who used Instagram to help them cope with difficult moments or issues they face are more likely than ever. 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.
All of this is up to you. However, one doesn’t need to completely agree with all the logic used by the company (or accept every word it uses) in order to recognize that Congress has their own agenda.
@FrancesHaugen is right – we need a dedicated regulatory agency to hold Facebook and other Big Tech companies accountable for how their algorithms push misinformation and how our data is used and misused for their profit.
The Data Protection Agency is essential. pic.twitter.com/TAqnuwE41s
— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (@gillibrandny) October 5, 2021
California can’t limit private prisons. ““Reports indicate that Tuesday’s federal appeals court panel divided ruled against a California state law which seeks to phase out private detention facilities. It is unconstitutionally intrusive on federal immigration authority.” Politico. “The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals’ 2-1 decision is overturned. Circuit Court of Appeals overturns District Court’s ruling which upheld 2019 California legislation (AB 32).
Treasury Secretary defends Biden’s banking snooping plan. Under the plan of the Administration, all banks will have to report to IRS annual inflows or outflows for any bank, loan or investment account that has more than $600 in assets and conducts more than $600 transactions in a given year. This proposal is widely viewed as an “unprecedented invasion of privacy”, notes The New York PostThis is. Janet Yellen from the Treasury dismissed these concerns, saying that there were only a few details regarding individual accounts on CNBC and it wasn’t a privacy violation.
Yellen seems to believe that filling in the IRS on all bank balances would be no problem because banks won’t disclose details of transactions.
Yellen stated that it isn’t reporting individual transactions. It would also be easy for payment service providers and banks to include this information with other data they already have.
The jury has awarded $2.5million to the man hurt by police gunfire. This happened one year after cop denied QI. Includes $131K against the cop, who was given PD’s medal of honor for this incident.https://t.co/5aLm0wkMCB pic.twitter.com/iqPicQYXbl
— Peter Bonilla (@pebonilla) October 5, 2021
• A new date has been set for the trial of former Backpage executives after a mistrial was declared last month. This is the new trial will start on February 9, 2022
• Jacob Sullum takes a look at everyone’s favorite new myth about Halloween candy dangers: that marijuana edibles are being handed out to children. Sullum wrote that police are pushing the discredited scare but that fewer people believe it.
• John McWhorter defends the use of they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.
• “There is no plausible explanation for the words ‘pig’, ‘pigs’, ‘copper’, and ‘jerk’ being on the State Police’s list of additional bad words [filtered out from comments on the State Police’s Facebook page]A federal court has found that there is no discrimination of viewpoints.
• The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear Louisiana’s defense of its law that branded SEX OFFENDER across people’s driver’s licenses. Law was rejected by the Supreme Court of Louisiana last year.
• Gen X is getting richer.
• Rich people see themselves differently It is notA new study finds that the wealthy are more likely to support progressive taxation policies.
Similar to the tweet above: Numerous relatively wealthy people are in favor of more wealth redistribution because they feel that there’s a significant share of the population who have (or even) higher incomes and would be responsible for the costs. https://t.co/kizi5GeqLe pic.twitter.com/Q7Ix8cKgHm
— Rolf Degen (@DegenRolf) October 5, 2021