Should Instagram implement age restrictions? Stanford psychologist disagrees with Facebook whistleblower

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Ex-Facebook Program Manager Frances Haugen testified new details before a Senate subcommittee, accusing the Menlo Park-based tech giant is “morally bankrupt,” alleging the platform weakens our democracy and harms youth.

“Trust is earned and Facebook has not earned our trust,” Haugen said during Tuesday’s hearing.

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Haugen testified Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg knew about the harmful effects the platform was having on young adults, yet accused him of knowingly using strategies that were proven not to be effective to address the problem.

“Kids are saying ‘I’m unhappy when I use Instagram and I can’t stop.’ It’s sad,” Haugen said.

A study conducted by Facebook and shared internally found that 13.5 percent of teen girls admitted Instagram worsens suicidal thoughts and 17 percent of teen girls say the platform contributed to their eating disorder. Haugen testified she supports age restrictions to use the app.

“I strongly encourage raising age limits to 16 or 18 years old based on looking at the data around problematic use on the platform,” she said.

VIDEO: Facebook hearing: Whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies before Congress

Stanford Clinical Psychologist Dr. Sara Adler disagrees, adding restricting screen time by age would be too difficult to regulate.

“Putting an age restriction, that’s just laughable,” said Adler. “I think that’s an overly simplistic, great soundbite solution to a problem that is super nuanced and complicated.”

Adler has spent years studying the effects of social media on young adults. She says the solution needs to start with education.

“Let’s educate parents, let’s start incorporating content into pediatricians visits, psychology visits, let’s focus on social emotional learning,” she said.

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Facebook has announced development for its app designed for users ages 13 and under is on hold. UC Berkeley computer scientists Serge Egelman testified before the same Senate commerce subcommittee in May after his research found more than half of Android apps appeared to be violating California child privacy laws.

“Most of this was due to sending personal information to various third party advertisers and data brokers,” Egelman said.

His research also found Facebook is tracking information in about 1/3 of mobile apps available on the market – collecting what we search for, the apps we use, and where we go online.

ABC7 has repeatedly reached out to Facebook for further comment but have yet to hear back.

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