‘Will you commit to ending finsta’: US senator sparks panic and confusion with strange question to Facebook executive

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A US Senator has sparked confusion after demanding that Facebook commits to ending “finsta”.

In a question that came amid a grilling over Facebook, and particular about how Instagram is used by teens and the harm it is doing to them, Richard Blumenthal asked: “Will you commit to ending finsta?”

The question caused visible confusion for Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety who was answering questions in front of the Senate hearing.

“Finsta” – or “fake insta” – refers to accounts that are set up by users separately from their main accounts, and are intended to be more private. They might not include their real name or be locked so that they can only be seen by people who are approved, for instance, and might serve as a place for sharing more intimate content.

Ms Davis was forced to explain some of that to Mr Blumenthal, apparently assuming that he did not understand what exactly the word meant.

“Senator, again let me explain. We don’t actually do finsta,” she said. “What finsta refers to is young people setting up accounts where they want to have more privacy.”

“You refer to it as privacy from their parents, but in my interaction with teens, what I found that they sometimes like to have an account where they can interact just with a smaller group of friends.”

He then asked for confirmation that finsta was a Facebook product, as opposed to one made by Google or Apple. Ms Davis was forced to try and explain again that “finsta is slang for a type of account”.

That led Mr Blumenthal to demand: “OK, will you end that type of account?”

It is not clear whether the Senator was suggesting an end to private accounts, to those that do not use real names, or something else entirely.

In the rest of the hearing, lawmakers accused Facebook of concealing the negative findings about Instagram and demanded a commitment from the company to make changes.

“We care deeply about the safety and security of the people on our platform,” Ms Davis said. “We take the issue very seriously. ... We have put in place multiple protections to create safe and age-appropriate experiences for people between the ages of 13 and 17.”

Mr Blumenthal, the subcommittee chairman, wasn’t convinced. “I don’t understand how you can deny that Instagram is exploiting young users for its own profit,” he told Davis.

The panel is examining Facebook’s use of information from its own researchers that could indicate potential harm for some of its young users, especially girls, while it publicly downplayed the negative impacts. For some of the Instagram-devoted teens, the peer pressure generated by the visually focused app led to mental-health and body-image problems, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, the research showed.

The revelations in a report by The Wall Street Journal, based on internal research leaked by a whistleblower at Facebook, have set off a wave of anger from lawmakers, critics of Big Tech, child-development experts and parents.

Comparisons to the tobacco industry’s coverups of cigarettes’ harmful effects abounded in a session that united senators of both parties in criticism of the giant social network and Instagram, the photo-sharing juggernaut valued at around $100 billion that Facebook has owned since 2012.

Additional reporting by Associated Press