Instagram head testifies before Congress

By Aditi Sangal, Clare Duffy, Brian Fung and Samantha Kelly, CNN

Updated 2353 GMT (0753 HKT) December 8, 2021
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5:55 p.m. ET, December 8, 2021

Instagram head speaks directly to parents whose kids have been harmed by the platform

From CNN's Clare Duffy

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testified during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing titled Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users on Capitol Hill, today in Washington, DC. The committee questioned Mosseri about how the platform impacts the mental health and safety of teens and children.
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testified during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing titled Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users on Capitol Hill, today in Washington, DC. The committee questioned Mosseri about how the platform impacts the mental health and safety of teens and children. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Toward the end of Wednesday's hearing, GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee invited Instagram head, Adam Mosseri, to speak directly to parents whose children's have experienced mental or physical health impacts from the platform.

"I want to give you one minute to speak to parents who are struggling — their children have attempted suicide, or maybe some of them have taken their life," Blackburn said. "Speak directly to these parents because ... I’ve talked to a lot of parents, they’ve never heard one word from Instagram or Facebook or Meta and they are struggling with this."

Mosseri responded by saying that, as a father of three boys, "to any parent that has ever lost a child or had a child hurt themself, I can't begin to imagine what that would be like."

As the head of Instagram, it's my responsibility to do all I can to keep people safe, I've been committed to that for years and I'm going to continue to do so," he said. "Whether or not we invest more than every other company or not doesn't really matter for any individual, if any individual harms themselves or has a negative experience on our platform, that's something that I take incredibly seriously."

Mosseri added that he believes parents know what's best for their children, and reiterated the value of parental controls, which Instagram plans to roll out next year.

"But I also know that a lot of parents are busy ... so I don't want to rely on parental controls, I think it's incredibly important that the experience is safe and appropriate for your age, no matter what it is — 13, 15, 17," he said.

But Blackburn appeared dissatisfied by Mosseri's response.

"Mr. Mosseri, we are telling you children have inflicted self-harm, they are getting information that is destroying their young lives, and we are asking you, have some empathy and take some responsibility," she said. "And it seems as if you can't just get on that path, so we are going to continue to work on this issue."

Read more about today's hearing here.

4:57 p.m. ET, December 8, 2021

Mosseri pushes back on surgeon general's report that social media can harm youth mental health

From CNN's Brian Fung

Senator Dan Sullivan speaking to head of Instagram Adam Mosseri during the US Senate hearing titled 'Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users' in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2021.
Senator Dan Sullivan speaking to head of Instagram Adam Mosseri during the US Senate hearing titled 'Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users' in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2021. (U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)

Instagram head Adam Mosseri and Sen. Dan Sullivan tussled over this week’s report by US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on youth mental health, debating its conclusion that social media contributes to mental health harms.

The report itself, published Tuesday, identifies a range of challenges to teens that have had “devastating” consequences in recent years. Among other things, it highlights how technology platforms “can have adverse effects” on people’s lives.

“When not deployed responsibly and safely, these tools can pit us against each other, reinforce negative behaviors like bullying and exclusion, and undermine the safe and supportive environments young people need and deserve,” the report said.

Mosseri sought to downplay the findings of the report.

“I want to be clear that I don’t believe the research shows that social media is driving the rise in suicides,” Mosseri said.

As Sullivan tried to get Mosseri to acknowledge a connection between social media and harms to mental health, he asked: “Why do you think the Surgeon General of the United States, who just issued a 53-page report on mental health and teen suicides, said we should limit social media to help get out of this crisis?”

Mosseri would not be pinned down. He argued that Sullivan was selectively interpreting Murthy’s report and rejected any implication that social media usage was a driving factor in the mental health challenges raised by the report.

But the overall thrust of the government advisory as it relates to social media highlights how technology can be harmful.

“Even if technology doesn’t harm young people on average, certain kinds of online activities likely do harm some young people,” the report concludes. “For example, some research has linked ‘passive’ social media use (such as scrolling through posts and auto-play video) to declines in wellbeing (versus more ‘active’ use such as commenting on posts or recording videos).”

4:43 p.m. ET, December 8, 2021

Instagram asked why action on accounts promoting eating disorders was only taken after a CNN report

From CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan and Clare Duffy

Senators Blumenthal and Klobuchar listen as head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Subcommittee hearing on Protecting Kids Online on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 8, 2021.
Senators Blumenthal and Klobuchar listen as head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Subcommittee hearing on Protecting Kids Online on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 8, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Sipa USA/AP)

Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked Instagram head Adam Mosseri why the company didn’t do anything about a set of accounts promoting eating disorders to kids until CNN reported on them in October.

Blumenthal was referring to an experiment run by his office in September where they set up an Instagram account belonging to a 13-year-old girl. The account followed some pages about dieting and eating disorders and quickly, Instagram began promoting more accounts glorifying eating disorders to the 13-year-old girl's account, Blumenthal’s office said.

Instagram failed to detect the accounts and did not do anything about them until the company was asked about them by CNN.

CNN sent the company a sample of five accounts that was recommended to the 13-year-old girl account. Instagram later acknowledged all five violated its policies against encouraging eating disorders and shut them down. 

Blumenthal added that despite alerting Instagram to the issue in October, his office repeated the experiment this week ahead of the Mosseri hearing and found the same results. 

"We created another fake account for a teenager and followed a few accounts promoting eating disorders and again, within an hour, all of our recommendations promoted pro-anorexia and eating disorder content," Blumenthal said at Wednesday's Senate hearing. "Nothing has changed, it's all still happening, and in the meantime, more lives have been broken."
4:04 p.m. ET, December 8, 2021

Instagram will bring back posts displayed in chronological order

From CNN's Brian Fung

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Instagram is actively working on a version of its content feed that allows users to sort media chronologically, rather than ranked according to the platform’s algorithm, Instagram head Adam Mosseri told Sen. John Thune.

The company has been working on the feature “for months” and plans to roll it out in the first quarter of next year, the head of the platform added.

Instagram content was initially presented in reverse-chronological order, but the platform shifted away from that model in 2016. In February 2020, an external researcher, Jane Manchun Wong, discovered a “Latest Posts” feed being tested by the company.

The disclosure highlights how Meta, Instagram’s parent company, is exploring the concept of algorithmic choice that has been pushed hardest by competitors, such as Twitter.

Supporters of algorithmic choice believe that users should be able to choose whether and how to engage with a platform’s custom algorithm.

3:45 p.m. ET, December 8, 2021

Mosseri acknowledges ‘missed opportunity’ to address underage Instagram use during event with influencer JoJo Siwa

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

(U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)
(U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)

Sen. Marsha Blackburn confronted Adam Mosseri with an exchange he had with influencer JoJo Siwa, who told him during an Instagram live event in June that she had been using the platform from the age of eight. 

Mosseri told Blackburn Wednesday he now believes that the exchange was a “missed opportunity” to address underage Instagram use.

At the time, Mosseri told Siwa that “I don’t want to hear it.” 

In his response, Mosseri told Blackburn that Instagram works hard to identify users who are too young to use Instagram. But he was cut off.

“At that moment, when you responded to her that you did not want to know, why didn’t you use that as a teaching moment?” Blackburn interjected.

“Senator, I would say it was a missed opportunity,” Mosseri conceded.

“Indeed it was a missed opportunity,” Blackburn said, “and it sends the wrong message. It looked as if you were encouraging kids that want to be online stars to get on earlier, and to build their audience. This is a part of our frustration with you, with Instagram and with these platforms.”

3:40 p.m. ET, December 8, 2021

Democratic Sen. Klobuchar: "Our kids aren't cash cows"

(U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)
(U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar claimed Instagram increased its marketing budget from $62 million in 2018 to $390 million in 2021 to "woo more teens."

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, refuted these claims.

"We increased our overall marketing budget," he said, but added it wasn't focused on acquiring more teen users.

"We try to make Instagram as relevant as possible for all users, including teens," he added.

Lawmakers and parents have "diametrically opposed" goals from Instagram, Klobuchar said Wednesday.

"Our kids aren't cash cows. That is exactly what's been going on. When you look at your marketing budget, and you look at what your company has done, is to try to get more and more of them on board," she added.
3:24 p.m. ET, December 8, 2021

Mosseri rebuffs two requests from Democratic Sen. Blumenthal

From CNN's Brian Fung

Adam Mosseri listens as he testifies at a US Senate hearing in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2021. 
Adam Mosseri listens as he testifies at a US Senate hearing in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2021.  (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Lawmakers wasted no time trying to secure specific policy concessions from Instagram, but Adam Mosseri largely refused to budge.

The Head of Instagram rebuffed two specific requests by Blumenthal.

Blumenthal asked for Instagram to permanently halt its development of Instagram Kids, a planned product for kids aged 10-12. Mosseri declined to stop the project, but committed that if Instagram Kids came to fruition, parents would have control over their kids’ ability to access the product.

Blumenthal also asked Mosseri to shift from supporting an industry-led standards body for social media to supporting an “independent” body that is not led by Big Tech. Mosseri also declined to explicitly commit to that, but he agreed it is important for regulatory standards to apply to social media when it comes to young people.

3:40 p.m. ET, December 8, 2021

Instagram head admits there's a loophole in teen account privacy default

From CNN's Clare Duffy

(Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)
(Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

Instagram head Adam Mosseri admitted to lawmakers that there was a loophole in a default privacy setting meant to protect teens on the platform.

For users under the age of 16, the company has said that newly created accounts are private — meaning other users must request to follow them in order to view their content — by default. But GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, ranking member of the subcommittee, said her office created an account for a hypothetical 15-year-old girl ahead of the hearing on the web browser version of Instagram and the account was set to public by default.

"Isn't the opposite supposed to happen?" Blackburn said "And have you considered turning off the public option altogether for minor accounts?"

Mosseri said he learned of the issue with the privacy default Wednesday morning, hours before the hearing.

It turns out that we default those under the age of 16 to private accounts for the vast majority of accounts, which are created on Android and iOS, but we have missed that on the web and we will correct that quickly," Mosseri said, skirting the second half of Blackburn's question.
3:22 p.m. ET, December 8, 2021

Read some excerpts from Adam Mosseri's testimony on Instagram's impact on kids

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testifying at a US Senate hearing in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2021.
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri testifying at a US Senate hearing in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2021. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Adam Mosseri's prepared testimony covers a range of steps Instagram has taken to help keep users safe, from making it harder for young people to receive unwanted messages from adults to restricting advertising so that marketers can only target minors based on age, gender and location.

Here are a few key excerpts from the head of Instagram's opening remarks, where he stated he firmly believes that Instagram "can be a positive force in young people's lives."

On using age verification as a way of keeping young users safe:

Mosseri stated that users under the age of 13 are not permitted on Instagram, and that the platform is trying to build new technologies to find a remove accounts belonging to those under 13.

Additionally, Instagram will launch its first set of controls for parents and guardians in March, he said.

Calling for more industry regulation:

Mosseri also stated his support for updated regulations to keep people safe online.

"Specifically, 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 build age-appropriate experiences, how to build parental controls. The body should receive input from civil society, from parents, and from regulators. The standards need to be high and the protections universal. And I believe that companies like ours should have to earn some of the Section 230 protections by adhering to those standards," he said in his prepared testimony.