Lawmakers Say Instagram’s Promises ‘Won’t Cut It’

US lawmakers have promised increased regulation of social media companies such as Instagram, following the testimony of Instagram head Adam Mosseri before the Senate last week.

At the hearing Mosseri called for the creation of an industry-wide body to establish safety standards for social media.

But lawmakers said such a move would not go far enough.

Senator Ed Markey, of Massachusetts, said Mosseri’s suggestions amounted only to another form of industry self-regulation.

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram. Image credit: Facebook

‘Status quo’

“Your idea of regulation is an industry group creating standards that your company follows,” he said. “That’s self-regulation, that’s status quo, and that just won’t cut it.”

His words were echoed by Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, who said the country could no longer rely on “self-policing”.

“The resounding bipartisan message from this committee is legislation is coming,” Blumenthal said. We can’t rely on trust anymore. We can’t rely on self-policing. It’s what parents and our children are demanding.”

The hearings follow the release of damaging internal documents from Instagram parent company Facebook, now renamed Meta, by whistleblower Frances Haugen earlier this year.

The documents raised questions over the effect of Instagram on teenagers’ mental health and Facebook/Meta’s inaction over the issue.

Online safety

In prepared remarks before the Senate, Mosseri acknowledged lawmakers’ “deep reservations” about the company.

“I want to assure you that we do have the same goal,” he said. “We all want teens to be safe online. The internet isn’t going away, and I believe there’s important work that we can do together – industry and policymakers – to raise the standards across the internet to better serve and protect young people.”

He proposed an industry oversight body that would have “input from civil society, parents, and regulators”.

“The reality is that keeping people safe is not just about one company. An external survey from just last month suggested that more US teens are using TikTok and YouTube than Instagram,” Mosseri said, citing a survey from analysts Forrester.

Ahead of the hearing, Instagram released new safety tools including one that reminds users to take a break.

User control

Blumenthal said these “fall way short of what we need” and should have been released earlier.

Instagram said in July that users under the age of 16, or 18 in some countries, would have their accounts set to private by default.

But Senator Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, said her staff had created a fake Instagram account for a 15-year-old girl and it had defaulted to public.

“While Instagram is touting all these safety measures, they aren’t even making sure the safety measures are in effect,” Blackburn said.

Mosseri acknowledged that accounts for this age group created on mobile devices defaulted to private, but those created on the web defaulted to public. He said the company would “quickly” correct the issue.

Government hearings

He also said he wanted Instagram to allow users to display a chronological feed, rather than one ordered by an algorithm, perhaps in the first quarter of next year. The company removed the chronological feed in 2016.

Facebook/Meta’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, testified before the same Senate subcommittee in September, and the panel held a hearing in October about online child safety with executives from Snapchat, TikTok and Google-owned YouTube.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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