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Instagram CEO testified before Congress about the app's impact on young users

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The head of Instagram got a grilling from senators today in Washington. It was Adam Mosseri's first time testifying before Congress, and he came before the same subcommittee that previously heard a whistleblower explain that Instagram's own research shows the app can make mental health issues worse for some teens. NPR's tech correspondent Shannon Bond joins us now. Before we begin, we should note that Instagram and Facebook's parent company, Meta, pays NPR to license NPR content. Shannon, you've been following this story for a long time. This is the same committee that has been holding a lot of hearings about kids and social media. Can you describe the scene today?

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Well, I would say this is a big moment, right? Instagram and its sister company, Facebook, are under fire. And this issue of child safety is truly bipartisan. And lawmakers today said they're sick of what they see as empty promises. Here's Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the top Republican at the hearing.

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MARSHA BLACKBURN: I'm frustrated because this is now the fourth time in the past two years that we have spoken with someone from Meta, as you are now calling yourselves, and I feel like the conversation continues to repeat itself ad nauseam.

BOND: And she says the company promises change, but then ultimately, nothing really changes.

CORNISH: And Mosseri's response.

BOND: He said he understood lawmakers' concerns.

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ADAM MOSSERI: I want to assure you that we do have the same goal. We all want teens to be safe online. The internet isn't going away.

BOND: But he also said this internal Instagram research has been misinterpreted. He says it shows that Instagram can also have positive effects on kids. And he says, ultimately, the company does care about safety. That's why it's rolled out new features, including just yesterday when it said it was going to be introducing its first parental controls.

CORNISH: But the senators have heard from the whistleblower, right? I mean, were they satisfied by this response?

BOND: I mean, I would say definitely not. Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who chaired the hearing, he said, you know, what they've heard shows the company cannot rein itself in.

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RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: I believe that the time for self-policing and self-regulation is over. Some of the big tech companies have said, trust us. That seems to be what Instagram is saying in your testimony. But self-policing depends on trust. The trust is gone.

BOND: And so he pushed Mosseri, for example, on whether Instagram plans to resume these controversial plans to build a version of its app for kids under 13. Just a couple months ago, that project got a lot of blowback. The company put it on pause today. Mosseri said, you know, the reason Instagram wants to build this is to address these concerns about kids online and says the idea is to give younger kids access to social media with parental consent, so he did not back down there. Blumenthal also pressed Mosseri to commit the company to support new laws around transparency, like opening up its data and algorithms to outside examination and new privacy protections for kids.

CORNISH: Are these suggestions that Instagram is open to?

BOND: Well, Mosseri was very careful to avoid endorsing any particular legislation and also careful to say that this is not a problem for Instagram alone. He pointed to a recent survey showing kids are spending more time on competitors TikTok and YouTube than on Instagram. And he also called ultimately for industry-wide action. He said, you know, that this is something where the industry should be taking the lead here, but that would keep the companies, not regulators or lawmakers, in the driver's seat when it comes to solving some of these really difficult problems. And I have to say, Audie, that did not sit well with Congress today.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Shannon Bond. Thanks for your reporting.

BOND: Thanks so much, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.