Facebook urged to publish research on harm its platforms cause children

Facebook must “publish what they know” about the harm its platforms cause to children, the Health Secretary has demanded.

Sajid Javid told MPs he was “astonished” to learn that an internal study by the tech giant found 17% of teenage girls said Instagram, owned by Facebook, made their eating disorders worse.

He criticised the social media company for not sharing the study with parents, healthcare professionals and politicians, adding that it must “do the right thing” and publish information it holds.

Cabinet reshuffle
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said Facebook must publish what it knows about the harm its platforms cause to children (Victoria Jones/PA)

Facebook responded by saying it published “two full research decks” in September, with annotations added to provide greater context to it.

Earlier this month, former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen accused the business of being aware of apparent harm to some teenagers from Instagram and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.

Ms Haugen has come forward with a wide-ranging condemnation of Facebook, with tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit.

Facebook has said her allegations are misleading and claims there is no evidence to support the premise that it is the primary cause of social polarisation.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Laura Trott (Sevenoaks) said: “Last week a whistleblower told the US Congress that Facebook had repeatedly misled the public on the impact of its platform on children’s health.

“Does (Mr Javid) agree with me that it is time for Facebook to be transparent about the impact of its platform and share with the public what it knows about the impact on children’s health?”

Facebook safety
Facebook has faced questions from MPs (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Javid replied: “I absolutely agree with (Ms Trott) and I thank her for raising this. I share these concerns.

“Over the past year the number of young people being urgently referred for eating disorders has doubled.

“In light of this, I was astonished to learn that one of Facebook’s own internal studies, that was brought to light by Ms Haugen, found that 17% of teen girls say that their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram.

“Facebook didn’t think it was appropriate to inform parents, healthcare professionals and legislators, so I do think that it is time for Facebook to do the right thing and publish what they know.”