American lawmakers have expressed distrust of the company as an official tries to reassure them that the company is committed to keeping new users safe.
Towards the end of the more than two-hour congressional hearing, Sen. Marsha Blackburn has given Instagram chief executive Adam Mosseri the opportunity to speak directly to their parents about their children injured by the platform.
“We are not talking to people who have ever had any kind of response on Instagram and it has broken the lives of these children and broken the hearts of these parents,” Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, told Mosseri on Wednesday.
“For any parent who has lost a child or who has injured himself, I can’t imagine what that would be like for one of my three boys. As the head of Instagram, it is my responsibility to do everything I can to keep people safe. I have been committed to that for years.
American lawmakers are not satisfied with Mosseri’s response. The official was testifying during the Senate trial, entitled Child Protection Online: Instagram and Young User Changes, which focused on what Meta-owned Instagram knew about the impact of its service on young people. Mosseri’s testimony comes at a time of unrest on Instagram and Facebook, which has been renamed Meta. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager turned whistleblower, underwent a series of internal investigations by Congress and the US Securities and Exchange Commission before leaving the company in May.
Lawmakers have begun the trial by voicing their frustration that not much has changed in protecting children online. In September, Antigone Davis, who is in charge of Facebook’s global security operations, appeared before the same sub-committee. The Senate panel also held a October hearing on child safety online with administrators from Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube hosted by Google.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, of the Connecticut Democrat, said his office on Monday created a fake Instagram account for a teenager and was recently shown recommendations for the content of food disorders. For example it was one of the worst stories ever made by law-abiding lawmakers to show how the application of Instagram rules is flawed.
“The two-sided message to the committee is that the law is coming. We can no longer rely on trust. We cannot rely on police restraint. That is what our parents and children want,” he said.
Ahead of the trial, Instagram also announced new tools, including a feature that reminds people to take a break from the platform, to show that the company is committed to the mental health of its users.
Blumenthal said the new Instagram security tools released “are very much needed for what we need” – and should have been released earlier.
Instagram is pushing for the building of an industrial organization
Mosseri told American lawmakers that keeping young people safe online is “not just one company.” Another idea he pushed during the trial was the creation of an industry body that would determine the best practices for protecting young people online such as how to verify user age and create parental controls.
Quoting a survey from Forrester, Mosseri also noted that more and more young people are using the short video program TikTok and YouTube over Instagram.
Companies like Instagram “must adhere to these standards” in order to obtain protection under Section 230, an organization law that protects online platforms from credit for user-generated content, he said.
Sen. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, and other lawmakers seem to support this view.
“Your vision is to control the industry team that creates the values that your company adheres to.
Instagram Kids are not on the table forever
In September, Instagram said it was slowing down the development of a version of the photo sharing app for children under 13 known as Instagram Kids. Instagram says the project is designed to give parents the ability to control the use of the social networking site for children between the ages of 10 and 12 who may already be in the app.
But the project has raised concerns from child advocacy groups who say children are less prepared to deal with social comparisons and the mental health risks posed by being on Instagram.
During the hearing, Blumenthal asked Mosseri if he would commit to suspending Instagram Kids. Mosseri said his commitment was that no child between the ages of 10 and 12 would be able to access the app, if the company was able to build it, “without explicit parental consent.”
New web-created accounts do not always remain private
Instagram said in July that users under the age of 16, or 18 in some countries, will have their accounts set to be automatically confidential.
Blackburn, however, has revealed that his employees created a fake Instagram account for the 15-year-old girl, but it has never been public, not private.
“While Instagram advocates for all these safety measures, it does not even guarantee that safety measures are in place,” he said.
Mosseri said the new accounts created on the mobile device make default by default, but that is not the case when accounts are created on the web.
“We will fix that as soon as possible,” he said.
Instagram could bring back the chronology next year
Mosseri said during the trial he thinks users should have more control over their Instagram experience, including the ability to view their feeds in chronological order. The company deleted the timeline feed in 2016 and instead displays content that users might be interested in based on a function similar to what they “liked.”
Instagram also works in a way to show people the users they want to see at the top of their feed and the version of the Instagram sequence.