A global coalition of scholars has written to Meta, formerly Facebook, noting that the social media giant has an ethical and moral obligation to make its research on mental health public. The letter notes that Meta should invite and disclose external reviews for all relevant work, before the work is undertaken, and afterward commission independent reviews of these projects with public-facing reports.
"You and your organizations have an ethical and moral obligation to align your internal research on children and adolescents with established standards for evidence in mental health science," the letter, signed by researchers from universities around the world, reads. The letter notes that Meta should enable independent reviews of its internal work, contribute data to external research projects, and set up an independent scientific oversight group.
Earlier this year, citing Facebook's internal research documents, the Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram was harmful for teenagers' mental health. Speaking about algorithms, Frances Haugen had earlier told The Journal that in human interactions, people eventually move on from a topic, but algorithms don't, which is harmful for teenagers. Facebook defended its research noting that the research demonstrates its commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with, and informs all the work it does to help those experiencing these issues.
The latest letter from researchers noted that Facebook or Meta's way to conduct research is "methodologically questionable and secretive". It further highlighted that the "work is misguided and, in its present state, doomed to fail"
"Instead of producing reliable scientific insights, the work has — somewhat predictably — been met with intense skepticism from scientists and widespread alarm by lawmakers, journalists, parents, and young people. This is frustrating because if the right scientific and ethical tools were in place, data collected by Meta could inform how we understand digital technology use and its influence on mental health in unprecedented ways, the researchers noted.
Shortly after the WSJ report, Facebook paused Instagram Kids. In response to the report, Facebook had cited its research in a separate blog post and had noted that many teens it heard from felt that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced. "On 11 of the 12 issues in the slide referenced by the Journal, such as eating issues, loneliness, anxiety and sadness, teenage girls who said they experienced these challenges were more likely to say that Instagram made these issues better vs. worse," the company had said.
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