Facebook plans to introduce changes to its system which will nudge teens to look at other types of content if they are found to be browsing the same content repeatedly, especially those that may not be conducive to their well-being, VP of global affairs, Nick Clegg, said during a recent interview with CNN. It will also introduce new controls for adults of teens, on an optional basis, to allow adults to supervise what their teens are doing online, Clegg said in response to questions about what Facebook is doing to change how it is operating its platform, especially for vulnerable teens. The tech giant also plans to prompt teens to take a break from using Instagram.
Facebook came under scrutiny recently after an investigative series by The Wall Street Journal titled "The Facebook Files", which spotlighted the toxic effects of Instagram on teens. Former Facebook employee and whistleblower, Frances Haugen, testified during a Senate hearing last week about internal documents showing the harm that Facebook's products are causing, such as mental health issues among teenagers.
Clegg clarified that the internal discussion paper Haugen cited was referring to something that has been known for a long period of time. He added that external research has confirmed that the majority of teens using Instagram have a positive experience even when they are suffering from sleeplessness, anxiety or depression. Clegg explained that if a teen is not feeling good about themselves, when they compared themselves to others, "for a minority of them for a minority of time", they might feel "a bit worse". This is the reason for Facebook doing its research. While the tech giant is unable to change human nature, Clegg said it can change its product. Nonetheless, he said it should not be acceptable for a teenager who is already in distress to feel even more so when they use any form of communication.
Meanwhile, Facebook has also been alleged to "consistently resolve" conflicts in favour of its own profits. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has since hit back, calling these allegations untrue. He added that the argument about Facebook deliberately pushing content that makes people angry for profit is "deeply illogical".
Likewise, Clegg also said during the CNN interview that a company that only places profit above everything else would not have invested US$13 billion to ensure their platforms are safe to use. According to Clegg, Facebook's US$13 billion investment is more than the total revenue of Twitter over the last four years. It also currently has 40k employees working to resolve these issues and doing research to understand the complex interaction between individuals and the use of social media. According to him, this is more than the number of employees working on Capitol Hill. While Facebook is unable to make everyone's lives perfect, Clegg said it can improve its product so they are safe and enjoyable to use.
According to him, Facebook has constantly introduced new tools such as allowing people to hide certain keywords and offering automatic prompts to individuals who are looking at material related to eating disorders. They will also get prompts on their feed to guide them to obtain helpful information and resources. "We face this challenge together. We have no incentive other than to try making that experience as positive as possible," he added.
When asked if he supports legislation allowing regulators to access algorithms that are used to amplify user content, Clegg said there is a need for greater transparency. Hence, the systems that Facebook has in place, such as the 40k employees and the multi-billion investments, "should be held to account if necessary by regulation".
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