Senators gear up for Facebook hearing

Senators are set to grill Facebook over the platform’s impact on children with two hearings scheduled to kick off on Thursday.

Concerns over social media’s impact on kids’ health and privacy have been a rare unifying issue in Washington, though the collective fury has failed to produce swift legislative action on proposals to regulate platforms.

On the schedule: Questions about kids’ safety online have been raised in previous congressional hearings with big tech executives, but the upcoming Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee hearings will put a spotlight on youth safety. The panel will question Facebook’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, at a Thursday hearing, and will later hear from a Facebook whistleblower on Tuesday.

“This whistleblower’s testimony will be critical to understanding what Facebook knew about its platforms’ toxic effects on young users, when they knew it, and what they did about it,” subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “I look forward to a discussion of the wide range of stunning allegations that have recently been brought to light about the concerning experiences young people are having on these apps.”

The concerns: Congressional rage at Facebook has ramped up in recent days after a series of Wall Street Journal articles detailed internal company research on Instagram’s negative impact on teen mental health, fueled further by another article on Tuesday on Facebook’s push to court young users.

The earlier reporting unleashed waves of bipartisan backlash, leading Instagram, which is owned by Instagram, to pause its controversial plan to launch an Instagram platform for kids. The popular photo-sharing app bans users under 13, although critics and the company acknowledge users often lie about their age to get on as children.

Despite Instagram’s pause on the plan, the concerns are likely to be raised at the upcoming hearings. After the pause was announced, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the company has not gone far enough.