Critics Skeptical Facebook’s Plans for More Youth-Friendly Features Will Be Effective
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Critics Skeptical Facebook’s Plans for More Youth-Friendly Features Will Be Effective

As Facebook plans to introduce new features aimed at helping youth cut down on their screen time or avoid content that could harm their well-being, critics are questioning whether the measures will be effective, the Associated Press reported. The proposed changes come in the wake of last week’s damaging testimony from a former Facebook data scientist who testified that the company’s platforms, in addition to other concerns, are harmful to children.

One of the new features will urge teen Instagram users to take a break from using the app after long periods of time, and another will “nudge” teens looking at content that could be harmful to their well-being to look at something else, the AP reported. Facebook will also launch new optional control features for parents of teens to supervise their kids’ online activities.

Josh Golin, the executive director for the children and media marketing industry watchdog Fairplay, said that the parental supervision feature likely wouldn’t be effective because many teen users create secret accounts. He also questioned the efficacy of the nudging feature and said that the company would need to provide more details and research on how it would be put effectively into action.

“There is tremendous reason to be skeptical,” Golin said, adding that regulators should curb what the company is able to do with its algorithms.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

New Facebook Youth Features
As Facebook plans to introduce new features aimed at helping youth cut down on their screen time or avoid content that could harm their well-being, critics are questioning whether the measures will be effective. An unidentified 11-year-old girl logs into Facebook on her iPhone at her home in Palo Alto, California, on June 4, 2012.
Paul Sakuma/AP Photo

The new controls were outlined on Sunday by Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs, who made the rounds on various Sunday news shows including 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 January 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 said that Facebook has invested $13 billion over the past few years in making sure to keep the platform safe and that the company has 40,000 people working on these issues. And while Clegg said that Facebook has done its best to keep harmful content off of its platforms, he says he was open for more regulation and oversight.

“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 whistleblower Frances Haugen, the former data scientist with Facebook, went before Congress last week to accuse the social media platform of failing to make changes to Instagram after internal research showed apparent harm to some teens and of being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation. Haugen’s accusations were supported by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit.

When Clegg was grilled by both Bash and Stephanopoulos in separate interviews about the use of algorithms in amplifying misinformation ahead of the January 6 riots, he responded that if Facebook removed 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.”

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, told Bash in a separate interview Sunday that it’s time to update children’s privacy laws and offer more transparency 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.”

Facebook Testimony
Facebook, in the aftermath of damning testimony that its platforms harm children, will be introducing several features including prompting teens to take a break using its photo sharing app Instagram, and “nudging” teens if they are repeatedly looking at the same content that’s not conducive to their well-being. Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaks during a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, on Capitol Hill in Washington on October 5, 2021.
Matt McClain/The Washington Post via AP
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