Colorado's Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser urged a U.S. Senate subpanel to look into legislative oversight and regulation of major social media companies this week.
In a letter sent to the chair and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, Weiser and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, also a Democrat, focused on social media’s adverse impact on youth.
The panel, which is led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and features Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee as its ranking member, was the staging ground for a high-profile congressional hearing on social media earlier this week.
The hearing featured testimony from former Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen, who said the social media giant’s products harm children and democracy and that the company “won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people.”
According to The Associated Press, the hearing came while the subcommittee is examining allegations that Facebook’s own research revealed Instagram — its photo-sharing platform — generated intense peer pressure on young users, particularly girls. As a result, those users suffered from serious mental health problems, with some reporting that Instagram intensified suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.
A document shared by Haugen illustrated that point, showing 32% of teen girls said that “when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.”
With Congress seemingly prepared to take action — Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., pledged during the hearing that “we will not allow your company to harm our children, and our families and our democracy any longer” — Weiser and Shapiro added their voices to the clamor for regulation.
“It is clear — from your hearings, academic research, and recent investigative reporting — that social media companies and their platforms have a unique ability to harm both the mental health of youth and the stability of our democratic institutions,” the pair said in the letter. “These emerging risks require new solutions from Congress.”
Weiser and Shapiro presented a trio of recommendations to come to those solutions, including:
- Research to develop a “comprehensive and unbiased” understanding of how social media giants’ algorithms operate
- A regulatory framework to mitigate the risks of social media similar to the oversight regime in place for political TV advertising
- Creation of a regulatory agency with the power to “take appropriate action to protect consumer privacy, safeguard competition in the online world, and address the risks to kids and our democratic institutions.”
“Protecting our children, our democracy, our privacy, and competition are critical priorities and are worthy of congressional action,” the pair concluded. “We are committed to this issue and are willing and able to assist the Subcommittee in such an effort.”