Following damaging internal leaks which showed Instagram can negatively impact adolescent mental health, Instagram has announced that it will end its plans to create a version of its app for children. But on Wednesday, the company revealed it isn’t ruling out doing an “Instagram for Kids” someday.
At a Senate hearing on Instagram’s impact on children and teens on Wednesday, when Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri if he would commit to quitting for good developing Instagram for Kids, Mosseri replied:
What I can promise you today is that no child aged 10 to 12 – if we ever manage to create Instagram for 10 to 12 years old – will have access to it without the express consent of the parents.
In other words, Mosseri was saying Instagram could still create a product for kids, despite months of intense public outrage and political pressure to abandon those plans.
The exchange reveals a deeper audience conclusion: Instagram – and its parent company Meta (formerly Facebook) – don’t seem to believe their product is harmful enough to children and teens that it requires a radical change.
This is despite internal company research leaked by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, which showed that one in three teenage girls who felt bad in their bodies said Instagram made them feel worse. Research too showed that 13 percent of UK teenage users and 6 percent of US teenage users who was having suicidal thoughts traced the desire to kill himself to Instagram.
While Mosseri adopted a thoughtful and serious tone in the hearing when he discussed topics such as teen suicide, he played down his company’s own research which showed Instagram may contribute to depression. among teens and denied that Instagram is addictive.
His responses did not seem to reassure the remarkably bipartisan group of US lawmakers at the hearing, who say they believe Instagram is harming the mental health of adolescents. These lawmakers say they are determined to pass legislation that could force Facebook and other tech companies to change their operations to better protect children.
Instagram’s impact on adolescent mental health has become a lightning rod in broader conversations about social media regulation, at a time when a growing proportion of the American public is increasingly wary of big tech companies.
But Facebook and Instagram continue to downplay this harm.
When Blumenthal asked Mosseri if he supports legislation banning social media apps which are designed to be addictive for some users, Mosseri responded, âSenator, respectfully, I don’t think the research suggests that our products are addictive. Research actually shows that out of 11 out of 12 tough issues teens face, struggling teens said Instagram helps more than it hurts.
“We can debate the meaning of the word ‘addicted’, but the point is that teens who take to the platform find it difficult and maybe sometimes impossible to stop,” Blumenthal said.
Another illustrative moment of the two-and-a-half-hour hearing was an exchange between Mosseri and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). While Cruz has used previous social media hearings to promote partisan concerns about alleged Tory censorship, this time lawmakers have remained focused on the issue of children’s mental health.
When Cruz lobbied Mosseri about internal research into the damage Instagram is doing to teens with body image issues and suicidal thoughts, Mosseri again made the point that overall, Instagram is making lives teenagers better.
âIf we’re going to have a conversation about research, I think we need to be clear on what it is actually saying. It actually showed that one in three girls who suffer from body image issues find Instagram making things worse, and it comes from a slide with 23 other stats where more teenage girls have found that Instagram improves performance. things, âMosseri said.
In a subsequent exchange, Mosseri said social media platforms like Instagram have âhelped important movements like body positivity flourish. â¦ It has helped diversify the definitions of beauty, and it’s something that we think is incredibly important.
These defenses did not appear to soften the positions of lawmakers.
âI am a mom; I am a grandmother. … I have a grandson of 12 and 13 years old. I talk to parents all the time, âsaid Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) at a press conference after the hearing. “And we know that [in] the huge number of stories we hear, so many parents have mentioned the negative impact “of social media.
Blackburn called Mosseri’s claim that Instagram does more good than harm to teenage users as “amazing” and said that “seemed really out of place.”
All of this clearly shows that Facebook has lost significant trust with lawmakers. Whatever goodwill the business might have had on Capitol Hill a decade ago, when Facebook was still in its infancy and seen by many as a universal social good, has been dramatically diminished after years of controversy over struggles. business with privacy, hate speech, and other harmful content on its platforms.
âBig Tech loves to use grandiose and eloquent phrases to bring people together, but the simple reality and why so many Americans are wary of Big Tech is, you make money,â said Cruz.
It’s still too early to say whether Congress will pass legislation to force Facebook and other social media companies to fundamentally change their operations to better protect teens and other users. Currently, several bills seek to create stricter privacy laws, impose penalties on Facebook if it reveals harmful content, and force Facebook to share more data with outside researchers to assess. the harmful effects of its products. So far, none of these bills has been passed or is even close to being passed.
But this hearing reaffirmed just how close Democrats and Republicans are to the fact that something needs to be done about how social media can harm teens.
Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Common Sense Media, which promotes safe technologies and media for children and families, has long advocated for Congress to pass legislation that would better protect children on the Internet. platform by protecting their privacy and other measures. He said that while Congress hasn’t acted quickly enough, he thinks Wednesday’s hearing is a sign that momentum is building for real legislation.
âWe’ve seen this movie far too many times before when it comes to Facebook and Instagram – and it’s time for Congress to act on a bipartisan basis, period,â he said. “But I think it’s going to happen now.”