A group of academics wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, urging Meta to be more open about its study on how Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp effect the mental health of children and adolescents. The corporation must enable independent evaluations of its own work, donate data to other research initiatives, and establish an independent scientific oversight board, according to the letter.
The letter, signed by experts from around the world, states, “You and your organizations have an ethical and moral commitment to connect your internal research on children and adolescents with accepted criteria for evidence in mental health science.”
The open letter comes after data from Facebook’s internal study was leaked, revealing that Instagram was connected to anxiety and body image concerns among certain adolescent females. However, the study presented is restricted and relies on subjective data gathered through interviews. While this technique might yield helpful information, it cannot show that social media is to blame for any of the mental health issues.
According to the evidence accessible thus far, the studies undertaken by Facebook researchers do not fulfill the standards used by academic researchers to conduct trials, according to the new open letter. The information supplied is also incomplete, according to the authors, because Meta hasn’t made its study methodology or data public, preventing independent specialists from scrutinizing it. The authors demanded that the corporation allow for independent assessment of previous and future studies, as well as the release of study materials and data.
The letter also requested that Meta donate its data to ongoing independent studies on teenage mental health. It’s long been a source of annoyance that huge tech corporations refuse to provide data, making it difficult for outside academics to analyze and comprehend their products. “Identifying and promoting mental health in the twenty-first century will be difficult if we don’t investigate how young people engage online,” the authors said.
According to Kaveri Subrahmanyam, a developmental psychologist at California State University, Los Angeles, the corporation presumably possesses statistics on platform usage and other user behavior to indicate how its platforms influence or do not effect the mental health of adolescents and teens. “Why aren’t they providing the data that indicates clicks and other activities that they have?” “I believe they should invite experts with that knowledge, provide them with the data, and allow them to conduct the study,” she added.
The open letter also urged Meta to create an independent scientific trust to assess any mental health hazards associated with social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, as well as to assist with the implementation of “really evidence-based remedies for online dangers on a global scale.” The trust may work in the same way as Facebook’s current Oversight Board, which assists the corporation with content moderation decisions.
Internal Meta research cannot conclusively say if or how social media platforms affect mental health at this time, but the leaked findings, when combined with other social media research, raise enough concerns to warrant further investigation through more rigorous research that could help understand the relationship. Understanding how online life impacts children and teens is crucial, according to the open letter’s writers.
The authors of the open letter said that the secrecy with which Meta has conducted research thus far has “rather unsurprisingly” created distrust within the academic community, which values transparency, and alarmed other stakeholders (such as politicians and parents). Taking the actions outlined by the authors might assist to clarify such difficulties and contribute to a more comprehensive picture of mental health on the internet.
“Data acquired by Meta might inform how we understand digital technology use and its impact on mental health in new ways if the necessary scientific and ethical instruments were in place,” the letter states.