Whistleblower Exposes Meta’s Knowledge of Negative Effects of Social Media on Young People 

Whistleblower Exposes Meta’s Knowledge of Negative Effects of Social Media on Young People 

Top executives from tech giant Meta, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, had been warned for years about the negative impacts the company’s popular social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram had on teenage users, a company whistleblower told a Senate subcommittee last fall. Yet, they failed to make any meaningful improvements to protect young users from harm.

According to Arturo Bejar, a former engineering director and consultant for Facebook, Meta's leadership has cultivated a culture of turning a blind eye to the negative effects of social media on youth, choosing to ignore internal evidence of harm while publicly presenting carefully curated data to minimize concerns.

Bejar is not the first insider to speak out against Meta's practices, alleging that the company knowingly ignores problems that cannot be easily fixed by its policies or technology.

His testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee follows what he says were unsuccessful attempts to address these issues directly with Zuckerberg and his team in late 2021. His concerns were based on research conducted by Bejar's team on the experiences of teenagers and other users on Meta's platforms.

Social Media Platforms Breed Harassment, Discrimination

Negative Effects of Social Media on Young People

Days before Bejar testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Wall Street Journal released a report that shed light on many of his claims. He shared that his journey in investigating this issue began when his 14-year-old daughter faced unwanted sexual advances from strangers on Instagram. 

Bejar worked at Facebook until 2015 and returned as a consultant to research user well-being issues in 2019. This was shortly after his daughter’s issues on Instagram. During the hearing, Bejar emphasized the gravity of the situation, arguing that it's unacceptable for young teenagers to be subjected to such propositions online. 

He cited his research, which found that over a quarter of 13- to 15-year-olds have experienced unwanted advances on Instagram. “This is unacceptable, and my work has shown that it doesn’t need to be this way,” Bejar told the committee members. 

Bejar's research also uncovered other concerning data, including:

  • More than a quarter of users under 16 reported having a negative experience on Instagram, including “witnessing hostility against someone based on their race, religion, or identity.”
  • Nearly one-third of young teenage users have seen discrimination based on gender, religion, race, and sexual orientation.
  • More than one-fifth of users felt worse about themselves after viewing others’ posts.
  • 13% of users experienced unwanted sexual advances in the past seven days.

Highlighting the Negative Effects of Social Media on Young Users

Social media has become an undeniable force in our lives, especially for teenagers and adolescents.

While it offers connection, entertainment, and a platform for self-expression, its impact on mental health paints a concerning picture. 

  • Constant Comparison: Curated feeds filled with seemingly perfect lives create an unrealistic standard, leading to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and body image issues.
  • Cyberbullying and Harassment: Online anonymity emboldens negativity, with teenagers facing hurtful comments, exclusion, and even threats. This can trigger anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): The constant stream of updates and activities can create a feeling of being left behind, fueling anxiety and social isolation.
  • Sleep Disruption: Late-night scrolling disrupts sleep patterns crucial for mental and physical well-being. This can lead to fatigue, mood swings, and decreased concentration.
  • Addiction: The dopamine rush from likes and notifications can be addictive, leading to excessive screen time and neglecting real-world relationships and activities.

Today’s teenagers have literally grown up in the digital age, with 97 percent reporting using at least one social media platform. About 45 percent said they spend most of their time on them. Thanks to whistleblower evidence, we know that social media platforms purposefully hooked young users by utilizing complex algorithms that funnel targeted content to their feeds, essentially making them addicted to the content. 

Sadly, numerous studies show the widespread impact this strategy has had on the mental health of young people.

Some of these negative consequences have led teenagers and adolescents to experience issues such as:

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Negative body image
  • Eating disorders
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide

Unfortunately, these issues can have long-lasting consequences, affecting academic performance, social interactions, and overall well-being.

Meta Knew About the Harm Social Media Posed to Young People

Cyberbullying and Harassment

Bejar's testimony comes nearly two years after Frances Haugen, another former Meta employee, shared internal documents indicating that Instagram was aware of its potential harm to children. 

Haugen described Bejar's research as a “smoking gun,” particularly highlighting the emails and responses from senior executives like former COO Sheryl Sandberg, who expressed sympathy over the issue, as being a “really, really big deal.”

While the company no longer uses the specific survey Bejar worked on, Meta has conducted various user perception surveys. The company says it implemented features and tools as a result of these surveys, like anonymous content reporting and comment warnings and the ability to silently mute other users.

Despite those efforts, Bejar said he struggled within the company, describing a corporate culture that avoids acknowledging problems and refuses to invest in solutions to understand users' experiences. 

Meta has previously claimed to prioritize user safety. Bejar argued that if Zuckerberg were required to disclose survey data about negative user experiences on Meta platforms during every earnings call, it would lead to meaningful improvements.

Lawmakers Bash Social Media Companies for Their Role in Harming Youth

This latest hearing once again puts Meta under scrutiny from both sides of the political spectrum in Congress. Lawmakers have been grappling with how to regulate social media amid pressure from the industry, concerns about free speech, and differences in policy approaches between Republicans and Democrats. However, there's bipartisan agreement in holding Meta responsible for its role in exacerbating mental health issues nationwide.

During the hearing, lawmakers didn't hold back in criticizing the social media giant, expressing little surprise at Bejar's claims and urging quick action to regulate Meta and other tech giants.

Connecticut Sen.Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, accused Meta of concealing evidence of credible harm from Congress, saying they knew about these issues but chose not to share them.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, slammed Big Tech for pouring loads of money into influencing legislation to maintain their dominance and block bills that would limit their power. He also accused Meta of manipulating data related to mental health concerns.

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy raised the point that social media has made it easier for people to act poorly, to which Bejar agreed, stating that social media platforms often reward negative behavior.

Lawmakers, Social Media Lawsuits Fight for Accountability

One of Bejar's main claims is that Meta, the company behind platforms like Facebook and Instagram, has prioritized using advanced technology to detect content that clearly breaks the rules while neglecting to invest in human reviews for situations that might not clearly violate the rules but can still be upsetting to users.

Despite reaching out to top Meta executives, including Zuckerberg, Bejar felt his concerns were largely ignored. Although former COO Sandberg expressed sympathy in individual correspondence, he still felt his issues were unresolved. Shortly after these interactions, Bejar left the company in October 2021 without hearing from Zuckerberg directly.

Bejar's evidence, which is now part of a federal lawsuit against Meta, might encourage more whistleblowers to speak out, according to Haugen. It provides further insight into the situation that was initially presented when she testified publicly.

Lawmakers, including Hawley and Blumenthal, are determined to push forward with legislation like the Kids' Online Safety Act. They aim to finalize this bill by the end of the year. Blumenthal emphasized the significant threat Big Tech poses, likening it to past efforts to regulate harmful products like tobacco. He stressed that many Americans recognize the damage being done and see Big Tech as the next major industry to face scrutiny akin to Big Tobacco.

Social Media Lawsuits Seek to Hold Tech Giants Accountable for Youth Harm

Lawmakers aren’t the only ones who are upset with these platforms. Several social media lawsuits filed against social media companies have been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation. Defendants include Meta (Facebook, Instagram), Alphabet Inc. (Google LLC, YouTube LLC), Snap Inc. (Snapchat), and ByteDance (TikTok). 

Parents and young adult users suing these companies claim the social media platforms encouraged addictive behavior, specifically among adolescents and teenagers, which resulted in them suffering from a range of mental health issues. Plaintiffs seek to hold these companies accountable for the harm they caused along with compensation for the damages they suffered as a result. 

Have the Negative Effects of Social Media Harmed Your Child?

Research shows how social media platforms targeted young users and used complex algorithms to funnel content into their social media feeds that caused emotional and psychological harm. Meanwhile, these tech giants have raked in profits while our children have paid the ultimate price. We won’t let them get away with it. 

Our legal team stands with the many victims harmed by these giants of social media. Contact us through our online form for a free consultation and to learn if you have grounds to recover compensation through a social media lawsuit.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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