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5 Takeaways From Wednesday's Senate Hearing With Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri

Newsweek logo Newsweek 12/9/2021 Meghan Roos
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testified during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill. Above, Mosseri is photographed attending the December 8, 2021 hearing, titled Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users. © Drew Angerer/Getty Images Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testified during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill. Above, Mosseri is photographed attending the December 8, 2021 hearing, titled Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users.

Senators inundated Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri with questions about the company's awareness of its impact on young users and strategies for addressing those impacts during a Wednesday hearing on Capitol Hill.

Mosseri was called to appear at the hearing, which was officially called Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users. Mosseri's participation was called by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security.

The hearing occurred several weeks after whistleblower reports suggested researchers at Meta, the parent company of Instagram formerly known as Facebook, were aware that some Instagram users reported use of the platform having negative impacts on body image.

Below are some of the top takeaways from the hearing.

Mosseri Pitches an "Industry Body"

In prepared testimony, Mosseri told lawmakers the impact of social media use on young people is an industry-wide concern and proposed what he referred to as an "industry body" to help regulate it. The group would define "best practices" for three main areas of concern, which he identified as age verification, "age-appropriate experiences," and the implementation of control tools for parents and guardians.

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"This body should receive input from civil society, parents and regulators to create standards that are high and protections that are universal," Mosseri said in his prepared testimony. He added social media companies, including Instagram, should be required to abide by the standards set by the proposed group in order to "earn" Section 230 protections.

Lawmakers pushed back on the idea of "industry" regulators. Before Mosseri presented his prepared opening statement, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, the subcommittee's chair, said it was his opinion that "the time for self-policing and self-regulation is over."

"Some of the big tech companies have said, 'trust us.' That seems to be what Instagram is saying in your testimony," Blumenthal said. "But self-policing depends on trust. The trust is gone."

The Democrat went on to say the U.S. needs "independent" and "objective" people to oversee social media.

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the subcommittee's ranking member, also expressed doubt in Mosseri's proposed "industry" group.

"An industry group is not going to give the controls that are needed, and probably not even an independent group," she said.

Some Teen Accounts Did Not Default to "Private" Setting

Over the summer, Instagram introduced a new safety feature that was intended to automatically set new accounts created by users under the age of 16 to "private." But Blackburn told Mosseri her staff recently created a test account intended for a 15-year-old girl and noticed the account defaulted to the "public" setting.

"Isn't the opposite supposed to happen?" Blackburn asked. "And have you considered turning off the "public" option altogether for minor accounts?"

Mosseri told Blackburn he learned about the issue "just this morning." While he said the "vast majority" of accounts for teens under 16 are created on Android or iOS devices and are automatically set to "private," he said Instagram "missed that on the web" and added the company is working to "correct that quickly." He did not address Blackburn's query about defaulting to a private setting "altogether" for accountholders under 18.

Mosseri later told Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar he believes it "would be much more effective" to enforce age verification "at the device level" with oversight from parents or guardians.

Missing the "Teaching Moment" with Jojo Siwa

Shortly after inquiring about the public versus private defaults for minor accountholders, Blackburn questioned Mosseri about a conversation he had with social media influencer Jojo Siwa during a Facebook event over the summer. During their conversation, Siwa, who is 18, told Mosseri she had been active on Instagram for nearly 10 years, to which Mosseri replied, "I don't want to hear it," according to a September report by The Wall Street Journal.

Blackburn asked Mosseri why he had not used his interaction with Siwa as "a teaching moment."

"Senator, I would say it was a missed opportunity," Mosseri replied.

The Future of Instagram Kids

At several points during Wednesday's hearing, senators asked Mosseri if he could commit to ending the proposed Instagram Kids project for good. Work on the proposed platform, which was intended for kids under 13, stopped in September. At the time, Instagram said in a blog post the company believed continuing with the program "is the right thing to do" but said it was pausing work to give Instagram more time to "work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators" about concerns that have been raised about the project.

When Blumenthal asked Mosseri if he would "commit" to canceling further development of Instagram Kids, Mosseri reiterated Instagram's earlier stance that the platform was "trying to solve a problem."

"What I can commit to today is that no child between the ages of 10 and 12, should we ever manage to build Instagram for 10- to 12-year-olds, will have access to that without their explicit parental consent," Mosseri said.

The Expected Return of Chronological Feeds

As the meeting progressed, South Dakota Senator John Thune raised concerns about the "lack of transparency" on algorithms from social media companies.

Thune asked Mosseri if it was his belief that Instagram users should be able to access the platform "without being manipulated by algorithms."

"Would you support giving consumers more options when engaging on Instagram's platform? For instance, providing consumers a feed that's not being fed to them by algorithms or that is in a chronological order," Thune asked.

Mosseri responded by saying he believes "it's important that people have control of their experience" and said he supports the idea of offering users a chronological version of their Instagram feeds.

"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," Mosseri said.

Newsweek reached out to Blumenthal's office for comment regarding the hearing.

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