Instagram chief Adam Mosseri is set to testify Wednesday before the Senate Commerce Committee, where he will face scrutiny from lawmakers over his platforms’ perceived harm to children.
The hearing is the latest installment in an investigation led by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn into social media’s negative effects on children, following the release of leaked documents from Meta (formerly Facebook) detailing Instagram’s research into how it impacts teen users. The hearing also marks the first time Mosseri will testify before Congress in his three years as head of Instagram.
Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, who leaked the documents to Congress and The Wall Street Journal, testified on Instagram’s harms before the Senate in October, pointing to Instagram’s internal research showing use of the platform contributed to depression, suicidal thoughts, body image issues, and other mental health problems.
Blumenthal and Blackburn, along with other Senate Commerce members including Republican Sen. John Thune and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, have indicated their intent to pass legislation addressing Instagram’s perceived harms.
“Now there is bipartisan momentum – both here and in the House – to tackle these problems we are seeing with Big Tech,” Blackburn will say in her opening remarks tomorrow. “The time is ripe to pass a national consumer privacy bill, as well as kids-specific legislation to keep minors safe online.”
Markey and Blumenthal reintroduced the KIDS Act in late September in response to Instagram’s research and urged passage of the bill.
“The handful of powerful online platforms where kids and teens spend most of their online time are inherently harmful to them,” Markey said when announcing the legislation.
The bill would make sweeping changes to how companies like YouTube and TikTok treat children’s content on their platforms, preventing websites geared towards kids and teens from amplifying certain content.
In anticipation of calls for regulation, Instagram unveiled several new child safety measures and parental controls early Tuesday, just one day before Mosseri is set to speak before Congress.
However, the new features fail to address the central issues contributing to the platforms’ harms to teen users, child advocates say.
“I actually think given the extent of harms on Instagram, it’s almost insulting,” Lina Nealon, director of corporate and strategic initiatives at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Yes these are steps in the right direction, but they should have gone much further.”
Nealon said that while the measures empower parents to exercise greater control over the content with which their children interact, the new features do little to address what she sees as the fundamental problems with Instagram. She recommended more holistic, sweeping changes that target the app’s design, such as limiting direct messages between children and adults, as well as additional steps to prevent sexually explicit messages to minors.
Nealon also said the changes failed to address how Instagram recommends potentially harmful content to teen users.
“If you can’t be certain that your algorithms aren’t promoting and recommending harmful content to teenagers, then you shouldn’t use your algorithms on teenagers,” Josh Golin, executive director at child advocacy group Fairplay, told The Washington Post in response to the changes.
Moreover, the new measures did little to stave off scrutiny from Blackburn and Blumenthal, who renewed their calls for regulation.
“Instagram’s baby steps fall short of protecting kids,” Blumenthal tweeted. “A PR gambit within hours of its CEO testimony is no substitute for real action.”
“Meta is attempting to shift attention from their mistakes by rolling out parental guides, use timers, and content control features that consumers should have had all along,” Blackburn said in a statement shared with the DCNF. “This is a hollow ‘product announcement’ in the dead of night that will do little to substantively make their products safer for kids and teens.”
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