Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri defended practices such as allowing adults to message underage users on the social media platform during testimony he provided before the Senate Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Subcommittee on Dec. 8.
Mosseri said undersage users could make their account private and decide whether to accept contact from an adult.
“If your account is private, if someone follows you you have to approve it. So adults can ask to follow you but you have the decision or the ability to decide whether or they’re allowed to,” Mosseri said in defense of Instagram’s policies.
Mosseri was being questioned by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, about whether underage users could receive unsolicited messages or other contact from adults they did not know.
Blackburn said that despite Instagram claiming new accounts for users under the age of 16 to default to private–as opposed to a public profile–her staff had found this was not the case when they created a false profile for a young person in order to test the policy.
Mosseri acknowledged this was a mistake and that the default to private had only applied to cellphone users using Android or Apple IoS which constitutes the “vast majority” of accounts. He said accounts set up on the web had been overlooked.
“We have missed that on the web and we will correct that quickly,” Mosseri said.
Mosseri added that Instagram would be bringing its first parental controls in March of 2022. Earlier in his testimony, Mosseri had argued that an “industry body” would be the best way to oversee social media platforms. However, Blackburn said she believed both of these proposals would be insufficient.
“The controls are going to be vitally important but an industry group is not going to give the controls that are needed and probably not even an independent group which is why we’re going to do something with federal statute,” Blackburn said.
The hearing comes amid heightened scrutiny of social media companies including one of the world’s largest social media platforms — Facebook — and their reported decisions to prioritize growth over other concerns. Facebook is the owner of Instagram.
Former Facebook product manager turned whistleblower Frances Haugen has testified to U.S. and European lawmakers working on those measures in recent months, citing internal company research suggesting that peer pressure generated by Facebook-owned Instagram has led to mental health and body-image problems in young users.
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