Frances Hougen is the Pain-2-Power Person of the Week for deciding to turn her outrage and disappointment at the poisonous algorithms use by Facebook into power. Last Tuesday, she testified in front of the U.S. Senate that Facebook knew that their algorithms—directing vulnerable teens to toxic content—were contributing to depression, anorexia and other scourges, but did nothing about it.
Study after study has documented the fact that the more people use Facebook and Instagram (and other apps like them), the worse they feel. And that doesn’t just mean feeling envious of others or glum about their lives; it means falling into deep despair and even experiencing suicidal thoughts. Now, we know (as if we didn’t pretty much know it before Hougen’s testimony) that Facebook puts getting its users hooked on content above the health of its users—intentionally. Translation: If you’re a 15-year-old who keeps looking at images of anorexic girls and “liking” them, you’ll get more of that content to look at, even as you get thinner and thinner and post photos of yourself disappearing, even if you land in the ICU, even if you are at death’s door.
One would think that this will be a field day for class action attorneys who can find the thousands and thousands of families grieving the loss of their daughters and sons to anorexia, to depression, to suicide and all manner of other disorders and who can easily be documented to have binged on toxic Facebook content while they were disintegrating.
Some of us have been ringing this alarm bell for a long time—myself included. Back in 2011, I wrote a blog [https://www.foxnews.com/health/facebook-public-health-danger] for Fox News that stated:
It should come as no surprise, then, that a new study by Dr. Larry Rosen, a professior at Cal State Dominguez Hills, shows that teenagers who use Facebook are more likely to use alcohol and to become more narcissistic, antisocial, paranoid and anxious. That makes sense: One drug (Facebook) should pave the way for the use of another (alcohol). And escaping reality by using drugs does indeed kindle irrational beliefs about oneself and the world.
Again: Dr. Rosen’s study doesn’t simply assert that narcissistic and antisocial people are drawn to Facebook. His study shows that using Facebook causes these traits.
Even before that, a Public Health Analysis publication [https://mphprogramslist.com/studies-indicate-facebook-affect-public-health-negatively/] summarized my views in this way:
Dr. Ablow notes that he has seen dozens of people who use Facebook to duck their problems and avoid dealing with real problems in their lives. Some of these people appear to avoid real human connections with other people by making ‘friends’ online. The understandable result, he points out, is feeling isolated and sad.
Ablow believes that Facebook will eventually be recognized to be a real public health hazard. In what he claims to be a substantial way, Facebook can have a negative effect on mental health of many people. This can be particularly true for teenagers and other young people, who make up about 20% of users.
Now, Frances Hougen has come forward, with thousands of Facebook’s own internal documents the prove that what I and other critics were saying was known to Facebook, but that Facebook did nothing about it. That takes guts. And that’s why she’s the Pain-2-Power Person of the Week.
Imagine if a car company knew their cars were causing brain damage from engine fumes leaking into the passenger compartment and hid it.
Mark Zuckerberg, who presumably knew all about this, as well as other Facebook executives should face criminal charges if what Ms. Hougen alleges is proven true. And the same should be true if the folks at TicTok or any other app are shown to be aware they are killing lots of people, but prefer to keep profits safe, rather than people.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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