Calling for better Meta analysis

Ella Rhodes reports on an open letter to the 'new Facebook'.

A global group of academics have signed an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg emphasising a need to investigate the potential impact of social media platforms on child and adolescent mental health. Led by the Oxford Internet Institute’s Director of Research, Professor Andrew Przybylski, it gives three suggested actions to help improve scientific and public understanding in the area. 

The letter suggested that Meta, a company formerly known as Facebook which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, needed to improve its standards in studying child and adolescent mental health. Its authors wrote that while they applauded Meta’s efforts to understand its platforms and their impact on young people’s mental health, changes were needed. 

‘We believe that the methodologically questionable and secretive ways your teams are conducting this important work is misguided and, in its present state, doomed to fail. Instead of producing reliable scientific insights, the work has – somewhat predictably – been met with intense scepticism from scientists and widespread alarm by lawmakers, journalists, parents, and young people.’ 

The letter laid out three actions for Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO, and the company’s executives, to improve the ways it carries out research. First they have said that Meta should commit to ‘gold-standard’ transparency in its research including independent reviews of all of its research from the past, in the present and future, as well as research conducted in the global north, south and areas of conflict. 

Second, the authors suggested Meta should contribute to independent research on child and adolescent mental health around the world. ‘Data collected by Meta on how people use their platforms should be shared with large-scale cohort studies of young people and should be contributed to global studies of child and adolescent mental health, working with researchers worldwide, particularly in the Global South.’

Third, they said a new independent oversight trust was needed for child and adolescent mental health on Meta’s platforms to scientifically vet the risks and benefits of social media in terms of mental health and promote evidence-based solutions globally. The letter concluded: ‘Understanding and supporting child and adolescent mental health in the digital age is a bigger challenge than any one person, company, or team can tackle. We believe your platforms have the potential to play an important role in impacting billions of young people for the common good. This global challenge requires a global solution. We believe Meta can do better and we write to offer our help.’  

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