Mosseri faced questions before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security about Instagram’s effect on young people’s mental health. His overwhelming response was that Congress overstated the damage Instagram has on young people and, in the end, the blame should fall on the entire industry, not just Instagram.
“The reality is that keeping young people safe online is not just about one company,” Mosseri said on Wednesday. He said that child safety was an “industry-wide issue.”
He said Instagram, and companies like it, “should have to adhere to these standards” to earn protections under Section 230, which protects tech companies from being legally liable for what users post on their platforms. He also said more teens are now using TikTok and YouTube than they are Instagram, anyway.
“We’ve been calling for regulation for nearly three years now, and from where I sit, there’s no area more important than youth safety,” he said.
It’s true that other social media platforms, including Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube, are responsible for some of the negative effects for kids online. But Instagram isn’t like those other apps — it’s one specifically built for photos, and there is some proof that Instagram has a very specific effect on young people.
But documents from Facebook’s own research leaked to the Wall Street Journal as part of their series called “The Facebook Files,” found that “Instagram is harmful to a sizable percentage of [teens], most notably teenage girls.” It also revealed that social comparison and body image issues impact teens more than adults, with some of the most “intense experiences” being social comparison, loneliness, stress and depression. Nearly half of all teen girls on Instagram feel they “often or always compare their appearance” to others on the platform, and a third “feel intense pressure to look perfect.”
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an epidemic of suicide among people in the U.S. aged 10 to 24 years old. After a stable period from 2000 to 2007, the rate of suicide among that age group increased by 56 percent from 2007 to 2017, making suicide the second leading cause of death for young people, following accidents, according to the CDC.
We don’t know for certain why suicide has become such a crisis for young people, and Mosseri argued against the notion that there was any tie between Instagram and suicide during his Wednesday hearing. But experts attribute part of the rise to social media and Instagram’s own research showed that among users who said they had suicidal thoughts, 6 percent in the U.S. traced those thoughts back to Instagram. A quarter of teens who said they didn’t feel “good enough” said those thoughts started on Instagram, the Guardian reported.
Instagram has been making moves to make the app safer for young people. In May, they let users hide like counts on their posts or on posts in their feed, but it didn’t actually depressurize the platform. Realistically, removing likes without getting rid of other elements of quantified popularity doesn’t actually cover enough ground to make a lasting impact. The company also recently dropped their attempt at Instagram Kids, which would have been a modified version of the app for young people that included additional controls. That came under fire during Wednesday’s hearing, but Mosseri still seems to think it’s a good idea to create a safe social media environment for young people — Instagram Kids might just not be the best answer.
And, just the day before his hearing, Mosseri announced new tools and features designed to keep young people safe on Instagram. These tools include nudging teens towards different topics, a Take A Break feature, and tools for parents to track the amount of time their kids spend online.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, Crisis Text Line provides free, confidential support 24/7. Text CRISIS to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET, or email [email protected]. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.