The recent revelations about the harmful influences of social media upon young people that first appeared in the Wall St. Journal and then before Congress with the testimony of a former Facebook employee (who had provided the Wall St. Journal with the documents for its expose) have demonstrated once again to the world what we already know about these platforms: They will do anything just to make a buck.
The former Facebook employee provided the Journal with Facebook’s own internal research that shows that Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) can have a negative effect on teen mental health, especially among girls. The Facebook researchers concluded, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.”
In addition, the researchers concluded that its algorithms on Instagram can steer users toward content that can be harmful.
Yet despite its own research, Facebook has done little or nothing to address this issue, as well as a host of others, ranging from spreading disinformation to human trafficking.
The reason that Facebook and other social media companies can get away with such atrocious behavior is that they are shielded from civil and criminal liability by a federal law, known as Section 230, that was enacted in the mid-1990s before any of today’s popular social media platforms even existed.
Thanks to Section 230, a social media platform cannot be sued for libel (unlike traditional media such as ourselves) and cannot be prosecuted for any role it may play in enabling a criminal enterprise.
The information that was brought to light by the former Facebook employee once again has highlighted the pernicious effects of social media upon our society in general and young people in particular.
More significantly, the Facebook Papers show that these companies never will police themselves because they place profit above anything else. Their irresponsible behavior essentially is part of their business model.
Congress needs to repeal Section 230 — it’s as simple as that.