By Lexi Mcmenamin
Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) are asking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram head Adam Mosseri to account for what they call “the dangers of Instagram, especially for young people who suffer from eating disorders.”
In light of last week’s congressional testimony from former Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen, the senators sent a letter to the social media giants asking about Instagram’s content moderation strategy and resources regarding eating disorders, as well as Instagram’s advertising strategy with young users.
During her testimony, Haugen, who worked on Facebook’s civic integrity team, revealed troubling information on the mental health impact that Facebook and Instagram have on young people, especially young girls.
When Klobuchar asked about Instagram’s impact on eating disorders in young people, Haugen responded, “Facebook knows that they are leading young users to anorexia content.” Haugen also discussed leaked Facebook internal data which found 17% of teen girls said Instagram usage worsened their eating disorder, while 32% said using Instagram worsened bad feelings about their bodies.
Since the hearing, parents and teens have spoken out about what they see as the toxic consequences of Instagram. “Of course Instagram does not cause eating disorders. These are complex illnesses caused by a combination of genetics, neurobiology and other factors,” an Arizona mom named Michelle, going by first name only to protect the privacy of her children, told The Guardian. Still, Michelle called social media a big factor in the struggles of young people like her two teen daughters, who both developed disordered eating issues during the pandemic, with one nearly requiring hospitalization.“[Social media] helps to trigger them and keeps teens trapped in this completely toxic culture,” she said.
The three senators previously collaborated on the 2015 Anna Westin Act, which increased education and resources for those suffering from eating disorders. Anna Westin was a 21-year-old Minnesota resident who died by suicide in 2000 after a five-year struggle with anorexia.
In their letter to Zuckerberg and Mosseri, they write, “The stakes here are incredibly high — studies have found that eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. We have long fought to ensure Americans can access treatment services for eating disorders, but more must be done to protect our kids from being exposed to content on Facebook and Instagram that glorifies and promotes eating disorders.”