By Jon Swartz
Instagram head Adam Mosseri took his turn on the hot seat before a Senate subcommittee on child safety Wednesday, and the results were typically searing.
Panel members took turns lambasting the app and its deleterious impact on teens. “Facebook’s own researchers have been warning management, including yourself, Mr. Mosseri, for years,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chair of the subcommittee, said. “Parents are asking, ‘what is Congress doing to protect our kids?’ and the resounding bipartisan message from this committee is that legislation is coming. The days of self-policing are over.”
Mosseri, in an opening statement, said he sincerely believes Instagram can help teens in critical moments. “We all want teens to be safe online,” he said. Shortly before the hearing, Instagram said it would apply new tools on the app to protect teens, with controls for parents to curtail their children’s use, limits on tagging or mentioning teen users, and the ability to bulk delete photos, video and other content.
The hearing highlights the blowback Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +1.35% faces for the foreseeable future over one of its most popular properties. The bombshell disclosures of internal data from whistleblower Frances Haugen, detailing how Facebook ignored clear signs of the damage Instagram can do to teens, has led to hearings, legislation and bruised the company’s stock.
Meta’s stock, which has skidded 12% the past three months but rebounded of late, closed up 2% in trading Wednesday.
As with so many congressional panels on Big Tech, the proceeding took on the rhythm of executives promising sweeping changes and cooperation with the federal government and regulators that contrasted with threats of antitrust-altering bills from members of the House and Senate doing the questioning.
The tone of skepticism continued during a press conference late Wednesday, when Blumenthal and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., vowed to push through legislation and noted some evasive answers from Mosseri under questioning.
“The solutions offered at the hearing are well-intentioned but interfere with the free market and are in Facebook and Instagram’s best interests to eliminate competitor advantages and differentiations,” Mark Weinstein, founder of MeWe.com, an ad- and algorithm-free social network that promotes itself as only for those 16 and older, told MarketWatch. “How about standards for content portability, device level age verification with privacy protections, and laws protecting children from any ads, data collection or content, excepting connections with their family, friends, and schools.”
Mosseri’s testimony, his first on Capitol Hill, comes amid intensifying scrutiny from federal and state lawmakers.
Last month, a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general led by California, Florida, New Jersey, and four other states announced an investigation into whether Meta violated consumer protection laws by promoting Instagram and other social networking products to children and teens.
Meta spokesman Andy Stone called the allegations “false and demonstrate a deep misunderstanding of the facts.” He said the company is working on developing parental supervision controls.