Protocol Source Code
What matters in tech, in your inbox every morning.
Image: Protocol

The many faces of Facebook

The many faces of Facebook

Good morning! This Tuesday, Facebook says Instagram isn't bad for teens, Susan Wojcicki says YouTube is good for teens, and 1 billion people are using TikTok each month (many of them ... teens).

The Big Story

Instagram's double-talk on child safety

Facebook has set a new record in corporate contradiction this week, with back-to-back blog posts about Instagram's impact on kids. And it's only Tuesday.

  • In the first post, published Sunday, Facebook's head of research, Pratiti Raychoudhury, delivered a point-by-point rebuttal to The Wall Street Journal's expose about Instagram's "toxic" effects on teen girls.
  • In the second post, published the next morning, Instagram head Adam Mosseri announced that, actually, the company was going to pause its plans to create a version of Instagram for "tweens" so it could "work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns."

Facebook is trying to have it both ways, as it prepares for Congress to yell at yet another one of its executives this week over the Journal's reporting.

  • Facebook is simultaneously arguing that the Journal left out all the ways Instagram is actually good for kids, while also seemingly acknowledging that concerns around Instagram's impact on kids warrant further scrutiny.

This is a well-used page of Facebook's playbook. The company's leaders are forever arguing that journalists, researchers and politicians are missing the forest for the trees by harping on damaging anecdotes, edge cases and misrepresentative data sets, without acknowledging all the other stuff the company does.

  • The company is trying much the same approach here, arguing that the same survey the Journal reported on, which showed that Instagram makes teen girls feel bad about their bodies, also showed that in areas "like loneliness, anxiety, sadness and eating issues," teens said Instagram actually helps them.

But Facebook's approach backfired in this case. The company found itself nitpicking the Journal's reporting in ways that make it look increasingly bad.

  • "The research shows one in three of those teenage girls who told us they were experiencing body image issues reported that using Instagram made them feel worse — not one in three of all teenage girls," Sunday's blog post reads.
  • That effectively reiterates the fact that the impact is worse for the most vulnerable girls.

The easiest thing for Facebook to do is pause controversial products like Instagram for Kids, especially from a PR standpoint. Facebook's head of safety, Antigone Davis, will testify Thursday before some of the company's biggest critics in the Senate, and when she does, she'll be able to point to one major sacrifice the company has made to accommodate their concerns.

  • Then, when the storm has passed, Instagram can launch a product for kids anyway, and this time, it'll be able to say it at least heard out its critics.
  • It wouldn't be the first time Facebook tried this. In early 2018, in the midst of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook paused the rollout of Portal, understanding that people might not want to buy a Facebook device when the company's privacy practices were being torched in the nightly news. Portal launched that fall instead, just in time for the holidays.

It's good to take time to stop and think about how a product for kids should work — or whether it should exist at all. In his announcement, Mosseri said this is not a sign that the company thinks building a product for kids is a "bad idea."

  • "The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today," he wrote.
  • Mosseri has a point. If you're someone who read the Journal's report and worried that Instagram is hurting kids, it's hard to see why you wouldn't also want Facebook working on an alternative that has at least some guardrails in place.
  • The kid-centric product would be ad-free and would include the kind of parental controls that Instagram today doesn't offer.

If anything, Instagram is late to the game. As Mosseri pointed out, YouTube and TikTok already offer versions of this.

At the same time, it's easy to see why Facebook's critics don't trust the company that created these problems to also fix them, or to be honest about whether those fixes actually worked. That's particularly true when the product in question stands to secure not just Facebook's current dominance, but its hold on a whole new generation.

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIP MORRIS INTERNATIONAL

By scrutinizing facts and including all voices, we can achieve public consensus faster and take well-informed collective action against the many challenges our world is facing. Embracing facts, new technologies, and science is our shared responsibility and the least we can do to drive positive change for the world.

Learn more

People Are Talking

Susan Wojcicki said YouTube is good for teens' mental health:

  • "We see a lot of creators actually talk about mental health and that, for a lot of kids, really it destigmatizes [it] and enables people to talk about what's happening and what's going on with them."

Facebook's Nick Clegg and Andrew Bosworth said the company will drop millions of dollars to "responsibly" build the metaverse. They also defined it:

  • "Virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren't in the same physical space as you."

Epic's Tim Sweeney wants nothing to do with NFTs:

  • "We aren't touching NFTs as the whole field is currently tangled up with an intractable mix of scams, interesting decentralized tech foundations, and scams."

Satya Nadella called Microsoft's almost-acquisition of TikTok "the strangest thing I've ever worked on":

  • "There was a period of time when I thought the [U.S. government] had a particular set of requirements, [but] it just disappeared. President Trump I think had a particular point of view of what he was trying to get done ... and then just dropped off."

Making Moves

Polestar is getting SPAC'd. The electric car company is going public in a deal that would have an enterprise value of $20 billion.

TikTok reached 1 billion monthly active users. The U.S. is among the company's biggest markets.

Software developer Wil Shipley joined Apple. He previously founded The Omni Group and Delicious Monster.

Deep Nishar will leave SoftBank Vision Fund at the end of the year. He served as the company's sole senior managing partner for several years.

Bevy fired an employee for engaging in "behavior contrary to our values." Derek Andersen, the company's CEO, apologized for the situation and said the company has "zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior of any kind."

In Other News

  • Google is asking the European Commission to overturn its $5 billion fine. The company is making the case that Android can't be anticompetitive because iOS exists, but the commission doesn't seem to buy that argument.
  • LinkedIn is trying out paid online events. The platform is testing the strategy on a batch of users and isn't yet sure whether it will expand.
  • Virgil Griffith pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge to break a U.S. sanctions law, and his sentencing is set for January. The Ethereum researcher was arrested a few years ago after giving a presentation at a North Korean crypto conference.
  • Employees are doing remote-like work … in the office. Companies are heading back to in-person work, but some workers say it feels the same as staying at home; they're still not interacting much with their colleagues and are continuing to make video calls.
  • Binance is trying to comply with Singapore. The company won't allow users in the country to buy and trade crypto on its main platform, as it continues to face scrutiny from local regulators worldwide.
  • Facebook's $1 billion Kustomer purchase is all clear. U.K. antitrust authorities said the deal probably won't lead to less competition.
  • Women, teens and people of color are affected most by cybercrime, according to a new report by Malwarebytes. The groups face higher rates of social-media hacking, identity theft and unsolicited text messages, the report found.
  • Roblox settled its lawsuit with the National Music Publishers' Association and is working on deals with individual music publishers. The company was sued for letting users add copyrighted songs to a library of game-building material.

One More Thing

Meaningless inventions

You might remember that video from a few years ago where a YouTuber turned a Tesla into a pickup truck. Well, the YouTuber behind that video is Simone Giertz, and she makes a living from creating seemingly useless inventions and posting them on the video-sharing platform.

Giertz's innovations range from a coffee table made out of matches to slightly more useful devices like an alarm clock that slaps you in the face instead of, you know, beeping. Her passion for robotics and meaningless inventions is entertaining, but will also definitely get your creative juices flowing.

We're featuring tech-industry creators and leaders we think you might like here every Tuesday. If you have folks you think everyone should know about, send them our way!

A MESSAGE FROM PHILIP MORRIS INTERNATIONAL

By scrutinizing facts and including all voices, we can achieve public consensus faster and take well-informed collective action against the many challenges our world is facing. Embracing facts, new technologies, and science is our shared responsibility and the least we can do to drive positive change for the world.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Recent Issues

Return of the Mac

The Slack revolution