The CEO of Instagram was met with skepticism on Capitol Hill on Wednesday as he discussed new measures the social media platform is implementing to protect children and teenagers.
Adam Mosseri appeared before a Senate committee and engaged in a heated debate with lawmakers who were outraged by revelations about how the photo-sharing platform can be harmful to some of its younger users. In addition, senators are requesting that the company commit to making changes and improving its transparency.
Some safety measures announced by the popular photo-sharing platform, according to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on consumer protection, were dismissed as “public relations tactics.”
In his remarks, Blumenthal stated, “I believe that the time for self-policing and self-regulation has passed.” “Trust is essential for self-policing. “The era of trust is over.”
Under intense questioning from senators from both parties, Mosseri defended the company’s actions as well as the effectiveness of the company’s newly implemented safety measures. He disputed the claim that Instagram has been shown to be addictive for young people, as claimed by some research studies. Instagram, which, like Facebook, is owned by Meta Platforms Inc., has an estimated 1 billion users of all ages. Instagram and Facebook are both owned by Meta Platforms Inc.
In a previously announced feature, Instagram introduced a new feature on Tuesday that encourages teenagers to take breaks from the platform. Other tools, such as parental controls, which will be available early next year, were also announced by the company, with the latter claiming to be aimed at protecting young users from harmful content.
Angry senators from both political parties joined together to condemn the social media behemoth and Instagram, the photo-sharing behemoth valued at approximately $100 billion that Facebook acquired for $1 billion in 2012.
As the hearing progressed, the tone became more confrontational and emotionally charged.
At one point during the hearing, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the panel’s senior Republican, said to Mosseri, “I have to tell you, you did sound callous.”
Members of Congress attempted several times to obtain commitments from Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri that the company would provide the full results of its internal research and the computer formulas it uses for ranking content to independent monitors and Congress. Aside from that, they attempted to persuade him to support legislation that would limit the ways in which Big Tech uses social media to target children and adolescents.
Mosseri’s responses were mostly general endorsements of openness and accountability, with the company insisting that Instagram is the industry leader in transparency.
There is a growing sense of urgency about the situation. The Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, issued an alarming advisory on Tuesday, warning of a mental health crisis among children and young adults that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. He asserted that technology companies must design social media platforms that benefit rather than harm young people’s mental health, according to the report.
Frances Haugen’s disclosures about her time as a Facebook employee have enraged the public and politicians alike, and Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, has been thrown into turmoil. As a result of her testimony before lawmakers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, she has claimed that the company’s systems amplify online hate and extremism, and that it prioritizes profits over the safety of its users.
Her assertions were supported by a cache of internal company documents that Haugen secretly copied and provided to federal securities regulators as well as members of Congress. Haugen is a data scientist who previously worked in Facebook’s civic integrity unit.
An investigation by a Senate committee has looked into Facebook’s use of information from its own researchers that could indicate potential harm for some of its young users — particularly girls — while publicly downplaying the negative consequences. According to the research detailed in the Facebook documents, peer pressure generated by the visually focused app resulted in mental-health and body-image issues for some Instagram-obsessed teens, as well as eating disorders and suicidal thoughts in some cases.
As a result of the revelations in a report by The Wall Street Journal, which was based on documents leaked by Haugen, a wave of recriminations from lawmakers, critics of Big Tech, child-development experts, and parents swept the nation.
The chief executive of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, stated in court that he is “particularly concerned about the safety of the youngest people who use our services.” Among the tasks we have to complete are preventing underage users from accessing our platform, designing age-appropriate experiences for people ages 13 to 18, and implementing parental controls. Instagram is intended for users who are 13 years old or older. Using Instagram is not permitted if a child is under the age of thirteen.”
Mosseri went over the slew of safeguards that Instagram has put in place to keep children and teenagers safe on the platform. For example, it is prohibited for children under the age of 13, direct messaging between children and adults is prohibited, and posts that encourage suicide and self-harm are prohibited.
However, as researchers both within and outside of Meta have documented, the reality is quite different from this. Kids under the age of thirteen frequently sign up for Instagram, either with or without their parents’ knowledge, by misrepresenting their age. Furthermore, posts about suicide and self-harm continue to reach children and teenagers, sometimes with disastrous consequences for them.