Following scathing testimony that its services hurt children, Facebook will roll out a number of new features, including asking kids to take a break using its photo-sharing app Instagram and “nudging” teens if they are constantly seeing stuff that isn’t good for them.
Facebook also wants to send additional restrictions for adults of teens on an opt-in basis, allowing parents or guardians to monitor what their children are doing online. These initiatives follow Facebook’s announcement late last month that it will put its Instagram for Kids project on hold. Critics, on the other hand, think the plan is vague and that the additional features will be ineffective.
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs, announced the new controls on Sunday, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” where he was grilled about Facebook’s use of algorithms as well as its role in spreading harmful misinformation ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
“We are constantly iterating in order to improve our products,” Clegg told Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday. “We cannot, with a wave of the wand, make everyone’s life perfect. What we can do is improve our products, so that our products are as safe and as enjoyable to use.”
Clegg stated that Facebook has spent $13 billion in recent years to ensure that the site is secure and that the firm employs 40,000 people to address these concerns. While Clegg stated that Facebook has done all possible to prevent dangerous content off its platforms, he also stated that he was open to greater regulation and control.
“We need greater transparency,” he told CNN’s Bash. He noted that the systems that Facebook has in place should be held to account, if necessary, by regulation so that “people can match what our systems say they’re supposed to do from what actually happens.”
The flurry of interviews came after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former data scientist, testified before Congress last week, accusing the social media platform of failing to make changes to Instagram after internal research revealed that it was causing harm to some teenagers, and of being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation. Thousands of pages of internal research materials that Haugen secretly copied before leaving her work in the company’s civic integrity unit backed up her claims.
According to Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, a children’s and media marketing industry watchdog, implementing measures to help parents supervise kids would be ineffective because many teens already have secret accounts. He also doubted whether nagging kids to take a break or move away from hazardous stuff would be useful. He stated that Facebook must demonstrate how they will implement it and provide evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of these features.
“There is tremendous reason to be skeptical,” he said. He added that regulators need to restrict what Facebook does with its algorithms.
He said he also believes that Facebook should cancel its Instagram project for kids.
When asked about the use of algorithms in propagating disinformation ahead of the Jan. 6 riots by both Bash and Stephanopoulos in separate interviews, Clegg stated that if Facebook disabled the algorithms, people would see more, not less, hate speech and more, not less, misinformation.
Clegg told both hosts that the algorithms serve as “giant spam filters.”
In a separate interview with Bash on Sunday, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, said it’s time to reform children’s privacy rules and provide greater openness in the use of algorithms.
“I appreciate that he is willing to talk about things, but I believe the time for conversation is done,” said Klobuchar, referring to Clegg’s plan. “The time for action is now.”