Instagram head Adam Mosseri appeared before the US Congress, on Wednesday, in relation to former Facebook employee Frances Haugen’s recent disclosures that Instagram exacerbated suicidal thoughts and eating disorders, according to a Reuters report.
The hearing dealt with the issues of big tech, the invasion of privacy, the lack of data security, and the need for Section 230 (that generally provides immunity for website platforms with respect to third-party content), or internet law, reforms.
Senator Marsha Blackburn said that she along with other American parents, was frustrated with how Instagram functions in terms of children’s security, and told Mosseri that it is “time for action”.
While Facebook and Mark Zuckerburg have come under immense scrutiny in the last few years for its failure to curb hate speech and misinformation, Instagram came under fire only recently after the revelations made by Haugen included the harmful effects of both platforms and their priority of financial gains.
The first whistleblower highlighted that evidence of hate extended to Instagram though the harm caused by it is more personal than public. “13.5% of teen girls say Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse. 17% of teen girls say that Instagram makes eating disorders worse,” read from one of the reports that Haugen shared with the Wall Street Journal.
Mosseri testified before the Congress and maintained his stand that the platform, as opposed to Haugen’s claims, can “help teenagers in those critical moments” and take on complex issues such as bullying and social comparison to bring changes.
“We need to make sure that the responsibility is on the big tech to put the best product on the market. We need 100 percent transparency,” Mosseri said in his testimony, and referred to Section 230, or the internet law which offers tech platforms protections from liability over content posted by users.
He called for the creation of an industry body to determine best practices to help keep young people safe online. The body, he said, should receive input from civil society, parents, and regulators to create standards on how to verify age, design age-appropriate experiences, and build parental controls.
Senator Blackburn noted that it was the fourth time in the last two years that the Congress had spoken to someone from Meta. “The conversation feels like to repeat itself ad nauseum”.
She also addressed Mosseri’s plans to amp up parental controls that were announced a day prior to him appearing before the Congress, on Tuesday, and called them “half-measures.”
The new controls that will be brought into effect from March 2022, are aimed at creating a stricter approach including preventing non-followers of teenagers from tagging or mentioning them in posts, nudging teens towards different topics if they’ve been dwelling on one topic for a long time, and allowing parents to keep a tab on the amount of time spent by their kids on the platform.
He also launched the feature ‘Take a Break’, in select countries, that will encourage teenagers to keep a check on the time they spend on the platform.
“Educational tools for parents can be helpful but frankly, I am more concerned about things we know kids and teens are hiding from their parents. We know that Facebook and Instagram have encouraged teens to use secondary accounts and told them to be authentic,” she added.
Mosseri has been associated with Meta for over 11 years now, and was made the head of Instagram only in 2018.