Instagram chief calls for rules to protect children on social media

Instagram’s chief executive has called an external regulator to set rules for how social media companies protect children during a congressional hearing into how the platform affects its younger users.

The testimony from Adam Mosseri before the US Senate consumer protection subcommittee on Wednesday comes after revelations from a whistleblower that Instagram covered up research into the damage the platform does to teenage girls in particular.

In written testimony prepared for the hearing, Mosseri said: “We believe there should be an industry body that will determine best practices when it comes to at least three questions: how to verify age, how to design age-appropriate experiences, and how to build parental controls.”

He added that companies should face losing their legal protection against libel lawsuits under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act if they fail to comply.

The hearing marks the first time Mosseri, a company veteran and close lieutenant of Mark Zuckerberg, Meta chief executive, has been in the line of fire from lawmakers.

It comes just weeks after a bipartisan coalition of US attorneys-general announced an investigation into how Facebook targets and engages young people on its Instagram platform and the potential harms it may cause.

The spotlight on the photo-sharing app owned by Meta, the newly rechristened Facebook parent company, follows accusations by whistleblower Frances Haugen that the company had buried research into the effect of the app on the mental health of young people, despite repeated demands by politicians to share its insights on the matter.

Haugen has shared a trove of leaked documents with journalists, regulators and Congress including internal reports suggesting Instagram can deepen teenage girls’ anxieties around body image.

Facebook has fiercely denied Haugen’s allegation that it deliberately quashed the research for reputational reasons, and pointed to other parts of it that outlined more positive user experiences, arguing that the picture is mixed.

Separately, the UK is pursuing an online harms bill with guidelines around child safety on social media, adding further pressure on Meta, which has come to rely on Instagram in particular as a driver of growth as its main Facebook app loses traction in western markets.

Ahead of the hearing, Instagram on Tuesday announced new tools designed to improve safety for younger users, including reminders to teens to take a break from the app, and giving parents the ability to monitor how much time their children are spending on it and set time limits accordingly.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers and child safety groups have been pushing for Meta to abandon plans to launch Instagram Kids, a version of the app for children under the age of 13, arguing that it is designed to get children hooked on social media at an early age and start collecting their personal data.

Mosseri has previously argued that the app would be free of adverts and grant parents more controls over what their children see, offering a safer alternative to existing ones. In September, Meta suspended plans to launch the Kids app in order to incorporate more feedback from safety groups and lawmakers, but it has not abandoned its plans altogether.

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