Senators want social media apps to share their research

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Biparty group of US senators consider introducing legislation that would require Meta platforms Inc.

and other social media companies to provide external researchers with access to the data.

The bill, which will be announced Thursday by the senses. Chris Coons (D., Del.) Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Would allow researchers to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation. If the NSF supports a proposal, social media platforms would be required to provide the necessary data, subject to privacy protections that could include their anonymization or “clean rooms” in which researchers could examine sensitive documents.

Instagram chief executive Adam Mosseri rebuffed claims by some lawmakers that social media products are designed to be addictive, during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday. Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The move was prompted, Senate advisers said, by revelations in the Wall Street Journal that an internal search of Meta, formerly known as Facebook Inc., showed its Instagram app to be potentially dangerous to people. young people, especially adolescent girls.

“This kind of research might never have seen the light of day” without the Journal’s cover, said an assistant to Mr Coons. “And we think that’s the kind of research that needs to be done for us to have a real, deep understanding of how these platforms affect us.”

Access to research was also raised during a Senate Commerce Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, where senior Instagram executive Adam Mosseri was asked to provide research cited in the Journal, which was collected by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen.

“These studies and research are really important for parents to make decisions,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D., Connecticut), chair of the Senate subcommittee on consumer protection.

Mr Mosseri said he believed researchers should have “regular access to meaningful data on social media use across the industry.”

But he said he couldn’t commit to publishing the research cited by the Journal due to privacy concerns and that some of the information may have been destroyed under the company’s data retention policy. Mr Mosseri also claimed that many young users find Instagram to improve their lives.

Mr Portman said access to information would be valuable for lawmakers considering legislation to restrict social media platforms.

“Before responding to any of these calls, Congress should take a step back to make sure we are not legislating in the dark,” said Portman.

The legislation would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to require the regular disclosure of specific information by platforms, such as ad targeting data.

The commission would also be able to require platforms to create basic research tools to study what content is successful, similar to the basic design of the CrowdTangle owned by Meta.

The bill would also ban social media platforms from blocking independent research initiatives. Researchers and platforms would benefit from a realm of legal certainty when it comes to privacy issues.

Write to Jeff Horwitz at [email protected]

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