Instagram boss Adam Mosseri took the hot seat Wednesday to defend the social media app from growing bipartisan anger over its potential harm to young users.
Facing pressure from lawmakers to detail specific concessions, Mosseri, 38, refused to budge and defended his company, which has faced a series of bombshell reports about Instagram’s toxic impacts on children and teens.
“I recognize that many in this room have deep reservations about our company,” Mosseri said, “but I want to assure you that we do have the same goal. We all want teens to be safe online.”
Mosseri’s appearance at the Senate hearing, titled “Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users,” follows leaked research that revealed that Instagram can make body issues worse for many teen girls.
It also comes more than two months after Frances Haugen, the executive from Instagram parent Meta who leaked the research, testified before lawmakers about Meta’s failures to crack down on hate speech globally, the proliferation of harmful content like that which encourages eating disorders and the company’s targeting of young kids as users.
During the hearing senators expressed frustration that Instragram has dragged its feet on implementing parental controls and ramping up security on its platforms to make it safer for minors.
Mosseri proposed a new industry body to set safety standards for social-media platforms, telling a Senate panel it could help protect younger children from harm.
But that proposal didn’t gain any traction with members of the Senate Commerce Committee’s consumer protection panel, who said independent oversight and regulation will be needed to counteract any risks posed by powerful social media platforms like Instagram that can harm users by targeting them with images and videos that can stoke suicide, eating disorders, self harm or other mental health issues.
“We are doing more than shaking fists, we are looking for solutions,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, the chair of the subcommittee and a Democrat of Connecticut. “The time for self-policing and self-regulation is over.”
A day before the hearing, Instagram said it would introduce new parental control features in March, but the senator said he was “troubled” with the timing, and called it a “public relations tactic.”
Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee also hit out at Mosseri, saying that she was “frustrated.”
“Tennesseans want Big Tech to be more transparent and to accept responsibility for your actions,” Blackburn said. “And time and time again, you say things that make it sound like you are hearing us and agree – but then nothing changes.”
Mosseri supported the “industry body” that would determine best practices on at least three major issues for social media concerning younger users, namely how to verify user age, how to design age-appropriate experiences and how to add more parental controls.
He also “called for legislation” for tech firms to adhere to such industry standards in order to qualify for the current federal legal protections that social-media platforms enjoy.
The exec also defended Instagram against lawmakers’ assertion that the social media app is designed to be especially addictive. He pushed back against lawmakers who want Instagram to abandon plans to roll out a version tailored to kids.
Instagram paused those plans in September, but Mosseri said he still believed in Instagram for Kids as a way to “protect” preteens who today might use the app despite its minimum required age of 13.
“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-years-olds, will have access to that without their explicit parental consent,” he said.
The CEO added that Instagram “invests more than anybody else,” shelling out more than $5 billion on “keeping users safe,” and said that some of the onus in shielding children is on the parents. That’s why the company is implementing parental controls, he said.
“I believe parents should set limits for their children. Parents know what’s best for their child,” he said.
Senators are currently working on legislation to address issues raised at the hearings, but so far talks haven’t led to proposals with broad momentum.