In his first-ever appearance before Congress on Wednesday, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri faced a barrage of questions from lawmakers about the social media platform’s ill-effects on children and teens.
During the hearing, titled “Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users,” members of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security grilled Mosseri on what Instagram knows about its negative impacts on young users, especially in regard to their mental health, and how its working to make the platform safer for those users.
Mosseri referred to the existing tools that Instagram has soon released to allow parents and users to control unwanted interactions. However, Senators of both parties seemed dissatisfied by his responses. Several took the stance that Instagram’s efforts are “too little, too late” and that the time for self-policing without congressional intervention is over.
“Self policing depends on trust,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, chair of the subcommittee, said in response to Mosseri calling for the creation of an industry body that would determine best practices for age verification, age-appropriate experience and online parental controls. “The trust is gone.”
Wednesday’s hearing came amid continued fallout over Facebook product manager turned whistleblower Frances Haugen leaking internal company documents showing that Instagram’s parent company Meta, formerly known as Facebook, downplayed its own research on harmful effects the platform has on young people, ranging from eating disorders to depression to suicidal thoughts. In recent months, executives from YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat appeared before the Senate Subcommittee.
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The weeks that followed a September report from the Wall Street Journal detailing Instagram’s internal research on the platform’s toll on young people’s mental health, the company announced it was hitting pause on the development of an Instagram for kids under 13. Mosseri said Wednesday that it would not abandon these plans.
“We all know that if Facebook saw significant threat to its growth or ad revenue, it wouldn’t wait two months to take action,” Blumenthal said of Instagram’s response to these reports. “Why does it take months for Facebook to act when our kids face danger, when time is not on our side?”
Subcommittee members shared stories about setting up fake Instagram accounts to pose as teenage girls, only for them to quickly be flooded with material glorifying body dysmorphia and encouraging eating disorders. Other members spoke of how Instagram’s goals as a company are different from parents trying to protect their children online.
“Instagram sees a dollar sign when it sees kids,” said Sen. Ed Markey. “Parents should see a stop sign when they see Instagram.”