Meta has a ‘moral obligation’ to make its mental health research transparent, scientists say

In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg published on Monday, a group of academics called on Meta to be more transparent about its research on how Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp affect the mental health of children and teens. The letter calls on the company to allow independent reviews of its internal work, contribute data to external research projects, and establish an independent scientific oversight group.

“You and your organization have a moral and ethical obligation to align your internal research on children and adolescents with established standards of evidence in the mental health sciences,” reads the letter, which was signed by researchers from universities around the world.

The open letter comes after Facebook leaks revealed some data from the company’s internal research, which found Instagram was linked to anxiety and body image issues for some teenage girls. However, the research released is limited and is based on personal information collected through interviews. While this strategy can produce useful insights, it does not prove that social media caused any of the mental health outcomes.

The information available so far appears to show studies conducted by Facebook researchers It does not meet the criteria that academic researchers use to conduct experiments, says the new open letter. The authors note that the available information is also not complete – Meta has not published its research methods or data publicly, so it cannot be examined by independent experts. The authors called on the company to allow an independent review of past and future research, which will include the release of research materials and data.

The letter also asked Meta to contribute its data to ongoing independent research efforts on adolescent mental health. It’s a longstanding frustration that big tech companies don’t release data, making it difficult for outside researchers to vet and understand their products. “It will be impossible to define and promote mental health in the 21st century if we cannot study how young people interact online,” the authors said.

The company likely has data on platform usage and other user behavior to show the ways in which its platforms may or may not affect the mental health of children and teens, according to Kaveri Subrahmanyam, a developmental psychologist at California State University, Los Angeles, the edge This fall. “Why don’t they release the data they have that shows clicks and other behavior? I think they should invite researchers who have that experience, give them that data and let them do that analysis.”

The open letter also called for Meta to create an independent scientific trust to assess any mental health risks from using platforms like Facebook and Instagram and to help implement “truly evidence-based solutions to online risks on a global scale.” The trust could be similar to Facebook’s existing supervisory board, which helps the company with content moderation decisions.

The internal research available from Meta at this point cannot definitively determine whether or how social media platforms affect mental health, but the leaked findings – along with other research on social media – raise enough relevant issues to justify Further investigation by more rigorous research could Help understand the relationship. Understanding how life on the Internet affects children and teens is an important question, the open letter authors said. The authors of the open letter wrote that the secrecy Mita has used in the research so far has generated skepticism from the research community, which prioritizes transparency, and left other stakeholders (such as lawmakers and parents) worried. Taking the steps outlined by the authors can help clarify these issues and contribute to a more complete picture of mental health online.

“If the right scientific and ethical tools are in place, the data collected by Meta can explain how we understand the use of digital technology and its impact on mental health in unprecedented ways,” the letter reads.

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