Senate bill on social platforms would make it easier to share data with outside researchers

A bill announced yesterday would open up social media companies’ data for scrutiny by outside researchers. Sponsored by Senators Klobuchar (D-MN), Coons (D-DE), and Portman (R-OH), it is proposed that the National Science Foundation be used as a mediator between sensitive platform information and requests from interested parties.

Senate aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Wall Street Journal, claiming that the bill is a direct response to recent disclosures about negative externalities associated with Instagram. Shared documents with magazine He noted in September that Meta (then known as Facebook) had conducted internal studies that found Instagram use was detrimental to the mental health and body image of some users, especially teenage girls.

The bill also follows a Senate subcommittee hearing on child safety on Wednesday in which lawmakers questioned Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri about these same issues. Many came armed with their own experiences creating fake accounts meant to mimic teens, and the disturbing content the platform pushed these accounts toward, including self-harm and “anorexia trainers.”

While the proposed bill would broadly apply to large social media companies, Meta has a particularly poor record of disclosure for academic purposes. I was able to distort a range of ongoing studies by providing incomplete data sets in September. A month earlier, it had actively excluded New York University researchers who had been studying disinformation and political advertising on Facebook. (Their findings indicated that disinformation thrives there.)

It’s too early to know exactly what shape that bill will take going forward. But as Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told Mosseri earlier this week, “Gone are the days of restraint.”

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