But even before the Journal report, the company had faced criticism that it was trying to loop in kids at an ever-younger age despite concerns about privacy and the negative effects of social media on mental health. In May, 44 attorneys general urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to drop the project altogether. The revelations in the newspaper that Facebook knew how harmful Instagram could be for teens, many of whom blame Instagram for increases in feelings of anxiety and depression, and yet played down those concerns in public, prompted outcries from lawmakers, some of whom compared Facebook’s actions to the tobacco industry years ago.
Facebook’s announcement that it’s pausing work on the project swiftly elicited skepticism among a bipartisan group of lawmakers, who argued the social media giant must go further to protect young people.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, called the move a “step in the right direction” but said there was more work to be done.
“Big Tech’s pattern of choosing profit over the well-being of young users is extremely concerning and we must hold them accountable,” she said in a statement.
Democratic Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal and Representatives Kathy Castor and Lori Trahan urged Facebook to completely “abandon this project.”
“Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online,” the lawmakers wrote.
Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who chairs the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security, has convened a hearing this week to address kids’ mental health online and Facebook’s research into the impact of its apps on young audiences.
Over the weekend, Facebook issued a rebuttal to the Journal’s reporting, saying that while those dealing with body image issues felt Instagram made it worse for them, users coping with loneliness, anxiety, sadness and eating issues said the app helped in their difficult moments.
In the blog post Monday, Mosseri said Facebook doesn’t agree with how the Journal reported on its research and highlighted measures it has taken in recent days to address issues like negative body image.