Here's experts' advice to Facebook as platform accused of putting profit over public safety

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Facebook is trending over allegations the social media giant chose profit over public safety.

Ethics, algorithms, mental health and money are all topics covered in Tuesday's hearing before a Senate subcommittee.

New details allege Facebook knew about the potentially toxic effects its platforms had on young users, and still put money over morality.

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"Facebook has failed to live up to its moral responsibility by prioritizing profit over the safety of its users," Etienne Brown, Assistant Professor in the Philosophy of Technology at San Jose State University (SJSU) said. "There's also been internal pressure for Facebook to live up to its responsibility, but leadership seems to refuse doing that."

However, it's pressure that Brown said could make a difference. He said users need to lean on lawmakers.

"It's never too late to enact laws," he added. "To make Facebook accountable to the democratic public, to make them share their data and the research results that they've been conducting, with the broad public."

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A study conducted by Facebook and leaked by former Facebook Program Manager Frances Haugen uncovered 13.5-percent of teen girls said Facebook owned Instagram worsened suicidal thoughts. 17-percent said the same platform contributed to their eating disorders.

"While we can't know for sure if that's all due to platforms like Facebook, the research seems to suggest that it's not helping," Dr. Thomas Plante, Santa Clara University psychology professor told ABC7 News.

Dr. Plante said, "We're seeing spikes in anxiety and depression and suicidality, and body image problems and eating disorders, and so forth."

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Plante said Facebook could reach into its deep pockets to address problems the platform is said to be creating for society.

"They have more money than God as it is," he said. "Can they spend some of that money to be very, hyper vigilant about good quality research, social science and mental health to get quality professionals who can help them? Including ethicists who can help them to create safe platforms that don't hurt anybody."

Brown said he isn't convinced Facebook users have all the information surrounding the site's recommendation system.

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"They don't necessarily know that if they post divisive content, that's the kind of content that's going to be amplified by Facebook algorithms," he shared.

"Facebook has an incentive to promote very divisive posts on social media, because it attracts engagement from users," Brown said. "And the longer users stay on the platform and engage, the easier it is for Facebook to sell ads."

Plante reminded ABC7 News, social media platforms can make the world better in a variety of ways.

"It can connect people who wouldn't be connected otherwise, maybe for good," he said. "But it can also do great harm."

"It's sort of like a car," Plante compared. "A car is great, it gets you where you want to go. But a car can also pollute the environment, and in the hands of a drunk driver can be a real weapon. So social media is probably the same thing."

Both Brown and Plante agreed an age restriction could be beneficial for social media users.

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