Instagram’s boss, Adam Mosseri, has had his appearance before Congress, where he defended his app’s way of dealing with young users.
Kid safety was the focal point, as an earlier revelation from whistleblower Frances Haugen showed the company knew its harmful impact on the mental health of its most vulnerable users. An internal investigation showed that 32 percent of teen girls made it worse when they felt bad about their bodies. It was also found that 13 percent of British teens and 6 percent of American teens on Instagram reported that the platform made them feel worse when they felt suicidal.
Meta (then known as Facebook) commissioned the research whose results were leaked to The Wall Street Journal. The document was featured during the hearing, and lawmakers tried to get more reports related to the leak.
The chair of the subcommittee on consumer protection, Richard Blumenthal, opened the proceedings with the findings made by his own staff on harmful content on Instagram. They found that Instagram’s algorithm for recommending posts started bringing up content promoting anorexia and unhealthy eating habits immediately.
Another member of Congress, Marsha Blackburn, had her staff create a test teen account on Instagram. The account defaulted to a public profile, instead of a private one. This was the opposite of what Instagram claimed as to how it handles teens’ accounts. However, Mosseri admitted his company failed to implement the default profile when accounts are created on the web, instead of through the app.
Senator Blackburn expressed her frustration with Meta, saying it was the fourth time the company was dragged before the Senate committee, and the conversation had been the same, with nothing changing.
Mosseri dismissed most of the findings on the harmful effects of Instagram, including those that are obvious. For instance, when asked about the addictive nature of the platform, Mosseri said he didn’t believe that research suggests his company products are addictive.
A recent update from Instagram would even contradict Mosseri’s assertion. The social media platform had started testing a feature called ‘Take a Break’ which reminds users to do like the name of the feature suggests. The breaks can be up to 30 minutes at a stretch. It suggested Instagram knew its product could be addictive.
Meta insisted that the safety precautions it had put in place on Instagram are adequate. Mosseri also defended Instagram’s decision to make a version of the app for kids, saying it means better protection for them, which is not present in the original app. “We know that 10- to 12-year-olds are online… we know that they want to be on platforms like Instagram. And Instagram quite frankly wasn’t designed for them.”
Instagram had paused its effort to make what it called Instagram Kids, following lots of backlash in September. It was slammed for not being a trustworthy custodian for kids and teens.
On possible solutions, Mosseri suggested forming an industry body that would come up with a standard for kid safety on social media. He stated that his company would be willing to earn the protection of Section 230 by following any rules made by the proposed body.
Mosseri’s solution did not please Blumenthal, who objected to self-regulation. The senator wanted to know how the rules would be enforced, but Mosseri didn’t like the idea of the US Attorney General stepping in to ensure compliance.
Mosseri also stated that chronological feed would come back to the platform. He made the promise when asked if users should be able to use Instagram without being at the mercy of its algorithms. Mosseri answered in the affirmative and added that Instagram was developing the option.
“We believe in more transparency and accountability, and we believe in more control. That’s why we’re currently working on a version of a chronological feed that we hope to launch next year.”
The reply would seem odd, as the option existed in the app until Instagram yanked it off, in favor of suggesting the posts users see in 2016. The removal was controversial, and Instagram had to add more recent posts to the suggested feed. However, Instagram would have to work out how to retain engagement, so as not to lose ad revenue.
Mosseri couldn’t commit to exactly when chronological feed would return.