The Age: Zoe Daniel grills Meta as it denies it harms teens

Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, has denied that teenagers’ use of social media has contributed to steep rises in mental health and body image disorders. In questioning at a parliamentary hearing, global Meta executives confirmed reports in The Age that the company was considering taking news links off its platforms if the federal government used its laws to force Meta to pay for Australian journalism.

Meta’s vice-president and global head of safety, Antigone Davis, claimed there was no clear evidence linking soaring rates of mental illness since about 2010 to the uptake of social media use, drawing criticism from some senators.

‘‘I don’t think that social media has done harm to our children. I think social media provides tremendous benefits,’’ Davis said, citing academic research she claimed backed her stance. ‘‘Issues of teen mental health are complex and multifactorial.’’

Citing safety features such as parental controls and time limits, Davis said: ‘‘Teens use social media in many, many positive ways to build communities and stay connected to friends and pursue interests.’’ Davis claimed the US surgeon-general had found ‘‘inconclusive evidence’’ on the risks of social media, despite his recent calls for warning labels on social media platforms.

Dr Vivek Murthy this month wrote that ‘‘the mental health crisis among young people is an emergency – and social media has emerged as an important contributor’’.

Labor’s Kate Thwaites, the Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young, who claimed Meta was “blackmailing” the government by threatening to remove news content, and

Independent Zoe Daniel grilled Meta executives on scams, age verification and bullying.

Coalition MP Andrew Wallace, a long-time advocate for social media controls, said he had been dealing with Meta executives for nearly a decade and their behaviour was similar to ‘‘dealing with Big Tobacco in the 1970s’’. ‘‘You can’t be taken seriously, Ms Davis, when you say Meta products aren’t harming young Australians. We welcome Meta’s support for age verification, but I’m putting to you that you are not a credible witness,’’ Wallace said, a claim denied by Davis.

The Age revealed in May that Mark Zuckerberg’s firm had told Australia it would stop media companies and individual users from posting news links if the government enforced a world-first Morrison-government scheme compelling tech giants to pay for articles. Meta blocked news content and some emergency services pages for a few days in 2021 at the height of nationwide border closures and COVID-19 lockdowns as it negotiated with the government.

Meta and Google ultimately agreed to pay about $200 million to media companies – including Nine, owner of The Age – and the bargaining code was never tested. The conclusion of those deals this year was cited by Nine boss Mike Sneesby when he announced up to 200 job cuts yesterday.

Local Meta boss Mia Garlick confirmed in the hearing yesterday that pulling news off platforms was an option. ‘‘At the moment, all options are on the table,’’ she said. News Corp Australasia executive chair Michael Miller said the hearing made clear Meta was prepared to pull news from its products, as it did in Canada last year when the government tried to force it to pay media companies. ‘‘I warned this would be Meta’s position and that it was prepared to blackmail Australia over this issue,’’ Miller said.

During the hearing, Meta defended its oftrepeated claim that news made up only 3 per cent of content seen by users.

Link to original article by Paul Sellak here.



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