The bill announced yesterday opens data on social media companies to external researchers. Under the auspices of Senators Klobuchar (D-MN), Coons (D-DE) and Portman (R-OH), it is proposed to use the National Science Foundation as an intermediary between the platform’s sensitive information and stakeholder requests.
Senate aides speak on condition of anonymity Wall Street Journal, argue that the law is a direct response to recent revelations about negative externalities associated with Instagram. Documents shared with Journal in September, he noted that Meta (then known as Facebook) conducted internal studies that found that using the Instagram app harms mental health and body image for some users, especially teenage girls.
The bill also follows a hearing on the Senate Subcommittee on Child Safety this Wednesday, where lawmakers criticized Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri for the same issues. Many came armed with their own experiences creating fake accounts that would mimic teenagers, and disturbing content by which the platform pushed these accounts, including self-harm and “anorexia trainers”.
While the proposed law would be largely applied to large social media companies, Meta has a particularly bad reputation for disclosing data for academic purposes. He managed to break through ongoing studies by providing incomplete data sets in September. A month earlier, he had actively deplatformed New York University researchers who studied disinformation and political ads on Facebook. (Their findings show that misinformation is rampant there.)
It is too early to know in what exact form this law will take if it moves forward. But as Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told Mosseri earlier this week, “the days of self-policing are over.”
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