Instagram CEO faces senators accusing his company of harming some young users: NPR


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Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri defended the company in a hearing in which senators said the site was addictive for children and bad for their mental health.

Jenny Kane / AP


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Jenny Kane / AP


Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri defended the company in a hearing in which senators said the site was addictive for children and bad for their mental health.

Jenny Kane / AP

WASHINGTON – The leader of a Senate panel examining the negative effects of social media on young people called some security measures announced by Facebook’s popular Instagram platform “public relations tactics”.

Instagram chief Adam Mosseri on Wednesday faced senators angry over revelations how the photo-sharing platform may harm some young users and demanding that the company commit to making changes .

Questioned strongly by senators from both parties, Mosseri defended the company’s behavior and the effectiveness of its new security measures. He took issue with the claim that Instagram has been shown by research to be addicting to young people. Instagram has around 1 billion users of all ages.

On Tuesday, Instagram introduced a previously announced feature that urges teens to take breaks on the platform. The company also announced other tools, including Parental Controls slated for release early next year, which it says are aimed at protecting young users from harmful content.

Parental monitoring tools “could have been announced years ago,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn told Mosseri. The newly announced measures are insufficient and many of them are still being tested, he said.

A hiatus that Instagram imposed in September on its work on a children’s version of the platform “looks more like a PR tactic brought on by our hearings,” Blumenthal said.

“I believe the time for self-control and self-regulation is over,” said Blumenthal. “Self-control depends on trust. Trust is over.”

Mosseri said Facebook, whose parent is now called Meta Platforms, has been rocked by public and political outrage over the disclosures by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen. She argued before lawmakers in the United States, Britain and Europe that Facebook’s systems amplify hatred and extremism online and that the company puts its profits above user safety. .

Haugen, a data scientist who had worked in Facebook’s civic integrity unit, backed up her claims with a wealth of internal company documents that she secretly copied and provided to federal securities regulators and in Congress.

The Senate panel examined Facebook’s use of information from its own researchers that could indicate potential harm to some of its young users, especially girls, while publicly downplaying negative impacts. For some dedicated Instagram teens, the peer pressure generated by the visual-driven app has led to mental health and body image issues, and in some cases, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts, have showed detailed searches in Facebook documents.

The revelations in a Wall Street Journal report, based on the documents leaked by Haugen, sparked a wave of recriminations from lawmakers, Big Tech critics, child development experts and parents.

“As the manager of Instagram, I have a particular focus on the safety of the youngest people who use our services,” Mosseri said. “This work includes keeping underage users away from our platform, designing age-appropriate experiences for 13-18 year olds, and creating parental controls. Instagram is designed for 13-year-olds and up. If a child is under 13, they will not be allowed on Instagram. “

Mosseri described the set of measures he said Instagram had taken to protect young people on the platform. They include the exclusion of children under 13, the restriction of direct messages between children and adults, and the ban on posts that encourage suicide and self-harm.

But, as researchers inside and outside Meta have documented, the reality is different. Children under 13 often join Instagram with or without their parents’ knowledge, lying about their age. And the messages about suicide and self-harm still reach children and adolescents, sometimes with disastrous effects.

Senators from both parties have united in condemning the social media giant and Instagram, the photo-sharing juggernaut valued at some $ 100 billion that Facebook acquired for $ 1 billion in 2012.

Already in July, Facebook said it was working with parents, experts and policymakers when it introduced safety measures for teens on Instagram. In fact, the company has worked with experts and other advisers for another product aimed at children – its Messenger Kids app which launched in late 2017.

Senators urged Mosseri to support legislative remedies for social media.

Among the legislative proposals put forward by Blumenthal and others, a bill proposes an “eraser button” that would allow parents to instantly delete all personal information collected from their children or adolescents.

Another proposal prohibits specific features for children under 16, such as automatic video playback, push alerts, “like” buttons and number of subscribers. A ban on collecting personal data from anyone between the ages of 13 and 15 without their consent is also being launched. And a new digital “bill of rights” for minors that would similarly limit the collection of personal data from adolescents.

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