This week, a Senate subcommittee for consumer protection called a hearing to address recent reports that Facebook has spent the last three years studying Instagram’s horrific effect on children’s mental health, only to press on with the rollout of “Instagram for Kids.” (Ahead of the hearing, Facebook finally admitted maybe this wasn’t a good idea and announced that it was pausing development of the service.)
On Thursday, our very pale tech overlords were called upon to address a few concerns the Senate has about protecting kids’ well-being online — which led to the following surreal exchange between Senator Richard Blumental and Facebook’s global head of safety Antigone Davis:
Blumenthal: Will you commit to ending Finsta?
Davis: We don’t actually do Finsta. Finsta refers to young people setting up accounts where they may want to have more privacy. Teens sometimes like to have an account where they can interact with a smaller group of friends.
Blumenthal: Finsta is one of your products or services. We’re not talking about Google or Apple. It’s Facebook, correct?
Davis: Finsta is slang for a type of account. It’s not a product.
Blumenthal: Will you end that type of account?
Davis: I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re asking. We’ve given teens additional privacy options to address those kinds of issues…so t hat they can have more privacy.
Blumenthal: Well, I don’t think that’s an answer to my question.
“Finstas,” a term used for secondary Instagram accounts that are private and only visible to a smaller group of followers, are annoying, and I’m glad this 75-year-old senator feels strongly enough to do something about it. However, it’s unclear exactly what he thinks they are. A product created by Facebook to help teenagers hide their Instagram accounts from their parents? Were his grandchildren all too busy for a brief consultation?
In any case, this is a totally encouraging interaction that suggests our lawmakers are well equipped to monitor social media’s unfettered impact on our thoughts and well-being. Up next: the war on soft launches.