Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was widely mocked and ridiculed for his usage of the slang term ‘finsta’” while questioning Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis on Thursday, despite the fact that he explained what it meant earlier during the hearing.
“Will you commit to ending ‘finsta?'” Blumenthal asked Davis.
“Senator, again, let me explain,” she began. “We don’t actually – we don’t actually do ‘finsta’.
“What ‘finsta’ refers to is young people setting up accounts where they may want to have more privacy,” she went on. “You referred to it as privacy from their parents. In my interaction with teens, what I’ve found is that they sometimes like to have an account where they can interact just with a smaller group of friends.”
(Video Credit: The Hill)
“Well, ‘finsta’ is one of your products or services,” Blumenthal accused. “We’re not talking about Google or Apple, it’s Facebook, correct?”
“‘Finsta’ is slang for a type of account,” Davis reiterated.
“OK, will you end that type of account?” Blumenthal demanded.
Davis responded, “I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re asking. What I can say is that based on what we’ve seen in terms of teens using those kinds of accounts, we’ve actually given them additional privacy options to address those kinds of issues, where they want more privacy so that they can have more privacy.”
“Well, I don’t think that’s an answer to my question,” Blumenthal concluded.
The senator said earlier in the hearing, “I want to talk about one major source of concern for parents. They are ‘finstas’. ‘Finstas’ are fake Instagram accounts. ‘Finstas’ are kids’ secret, second accounts. ‘Finstas’ often are intended to avoid parents’ oversight.”
“Facebook depends on teens for growth, Facebook knows that teens often are the most tech-savvy in the household,” he asserted. “But Facebook also knows that nearly every teen in the United States has an Instagram account. It can only add more users as fast as there are new 13-year-olds.”
He continued, “In multiple documents, Facebook describes these secret accounts as ‘a unique value proposition.’ It’s a growth strategy, a way to boost its monthly active user metric.”
“That active user metric is of great interest to your investors, to the markets. And it looks to me like it’s another case of prioritizing growth over children’s safety,” Blumenthal surmised.
A viral clip of the hearing made it appear as if Blumenthal did not know what the slang term meant. He was ruthlessly mocked on social media for it and even fact-checked by Urban Dictionary for what was originally perceived as an embarrassing gaffe. Clips of the exchange have been viewed more than 2.7 million times on Twitter and over 3.6 million times on TikTok according to Newsweek.
— Urban Dictionary (@urbandictionary) October 1, 2021
Although Blumenthal did explain what “finstas’ were during the Senate committee hearing, it is not a Facebook product that Facebook can eliminate. They would have to limit children’s accounts and require unique identity proof which would challenge privacy rights and restrict interaction on the platform.
The hearing addressed allegations that Facebook was aware of the negative impact of Instagram on teenage mental health. The Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, conducted research that showed it made “body image issues worse for one in three teen girls” and was detrimental to the mental health of female teen users.
Blumenthal, who is the head of the Senate’s Consumer Protection Subcommittee, has been a longtime critic of Facebook. He zeroed in on “finsta” accounts and the safety of children using the social media platform.
The accounts are ostensibly used to interact with smaller or different groups of people and they are utilized by more than just teens. Instagram allows individuals to have more than one account associated with an email address.
Despite Blumenthal indicating that he does know what “finstas” are, he was still slammed on social media:
Sen. Blumenthal, stern-faced, asked Facebook's Antigone Davis, "Will you commit to ending Finsta?"
Davis explained that it's slang for a fake account–not an official Instagram product or service.
— Will Oremus (@WillOremus) September 30, 2021
Sen. Blumenthal asks Facebook "Will you commit to ending Finsta?"
Facebook's safety chief has to explain that Finsta is slang for a fake account. pic.twitter.com/jMYy5AIZjY
— Eric Morrow (@morroweric) September 30, 2021
The first and only time I will ever feel bad for Facebook is watching this woman realize she's going to have to explain what Finsta is to a U.S. senator in a live congressional hearing. I'm not sure I could get through it https://t.co/aFJsFQRSov
— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) September 30, 2021
Best guess at what happened here: Blumenthal’s staff (which overall has been pretty good in this stuff) understands finstas, and his prepared remarks reflect that. The senator himself gets the gist of the problem but mistook a common user practice for an actual Instagram feature.
— Will Oremus (@WillOremus) September 30, 2021
How difficult is it to understand that finsta is slang for fake insta? This guy totally still has an aol account.
— ᴮᴱCarrie⁷ 🪐💜🍥 (@Carrie_Army) October 1, 2021
Sure he gets the concept finstas primarily used by youth avoiding supervision, and that extra accounts means ad revenue. He doesn’t get FB does nothing to enable this action. He thinks it’s some kind of extra service or buy up package that FB offers lol
— magnus (@wodemingzilu) September 30, 2021
If you wondered why there are no regulations for child influencers it's because our elected representatives are too busy trying to figure out what "finsta" means https://t.co/AQdfiOZXsG
— Kat Tenbarge (@kattenbarge) September 30, 2021
The senator kind of understands it. He explains it correctly but then speaks as if it’s a separate unique service or product offered. It’s not. It’s the same service…just one you don’t tell ppl about.
— dot.mission (@dotmission) October 1, 2021
Lmao he still doesn’t know what it is
— Walker Szcz (@SzczWalker) October 1, 2021
His line of questions demonstrated he had no idea what they are or how they work. I don’t care if read or memorized the definition.
— BenTReynolds (@BenTReynolds) October 1, 2021
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