Look Out, Facebook

This article breaks down the Senate hearings on Facebook and how its apps affect teenage mental health, as well as how this impacts Byram Hills as a community.

By Benjamin Berfield

There’s hardly any teen who hasn’t been affected by social media in the United States. Recently, there have been growing concerns that social media holds more negative effects than positive effects for teenagers. A few weeks ago, the Senate began hearings investigating this issue based on their knowledge that Facebook is aware that its photo sharing app, Instagram, has caused mental and emotional harm to youth specifically. The Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, product safety, and data security said that “children and teens are pressured to broadcast their lives online.” They examined Facebook’s own internal research and policy considerations to safeguard kids online, and lawmakers have questioned many executives about Facebook’s lack of action in addressing Instagram’s negative effects on teen mental health. The proceedings are called Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms. These claims are strengthened by those of a whistleblower.

In a blow to Facebook, former product manager Frances Haugen told members of Congress that Facebook has known for two years that Instagram can affect girls’ mental health on issues such as body image and self esteem. According to Haugen, Facebook is also aware that it frequently spreads misinformation and harmful content. However, Facebook has refused to make changes because the company doesn’t want these changes to hurt its profits. This is despite the fact that Facebook’s internal research showed that people use the platform less when they’re exposed to negative content. Haugen suggested during the Senate hearings that the government needs to create regulations on Facebook along with its associated companies, but it doesn’t need to totally dismantle the company. 

Here at Byram Hills, social media’s negative impact on teens was recently discussed among the school administrators and guidance counselors, including the effect body shaming has on girls in the context of social media. “I believe there are pros and cons to social media, but in general I see it as a big distraction for students in our school,” said school psychologist Dr. Medd. “Students are very preoccupied with whatever’s going on in their social media accounts,” she concluded. She also thinks that student desire to follow whatever is going on through their social media accounts distracts them from their school work. Asked about whether it would be a good idea to conduct surveys about student opinions on social media, Dr. Medd says she believes this could be worth pursuing to help support the emotional well-being of teens at Byram Hills. She plans on discussing this with the emotional wellness team that includes herself, Ms. Kelly, Mrs. Pagan, and Dr. Lanfredi. 

So, what’s next for Facebook? Haugen offered some solutions for improving Facebook but admitted that this situation would be very difficult to address. Because of the heavy criticism Facebook has received as a result of these hearings, many reports have said the company will change its name and undertake a rebrand in the coming weeks. The company hasn’t stated what they will do to improve child safety. Only time will tell when these regulations will be implemented, but one thing is for sure: This is an issue both political parties can agree on.