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Instagram CEO tells Senate panel it takes the mental health of children seriously

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, knew he faced a tough audience at a Senate hearing yesterday.

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ADAM MOSSERI: Now, I recognize that many in this room have deep reservations about our company. But I want to assure you that we do have the same goal. We all want teens to be safe online.

INSKEEP: He was defending Instagram after a whistleblower revealed documents showing just how much that company knew about its effect on young people. NPR's Shannon Bond covered the hearing and joins us now. Shannon, good morning.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should note that Instagram's parent company, Meta, pays NPR to license NPR content. I also want to note, Shannon, in an earlier feed of this program, I referred to Instagram's parent country, Meta, which was a mistake but seems almost appropriate in a way - giant, giant corporation here. Instagram is part of it. Why were lawmakers eager to hear from its head?

BOND: Well, he is the highest ranking executive to come before Congress since these whistleblower leaks came out, this trove of internal documents about the potential harms of these platforms. And that included internal research about how Instagram affects its youngest users, including a survey in which some teen girls said the app makes their body image issues worse. Here's what Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said at the hearing yesterday.

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AMY KLOBUCHAR: I think that we are in diametrically opposed goals - the goals of parents out there and the goals of your company. Our kids aren't cash cows.

BOND: And that's what we heard from both Democrats and Republicans, really outrage at this portrait that's emerged from the whistleblower documents that Instagram knows it may actually be toxic to users but that it's brushed aside those concerns in the name of growth because it needs to capture especially this younger age group to ensure its continued longevity.

INSKEEP: Well, Instagram does try to capture users and deliver them to advertisers. So how did Mosseri defend that?

BOND: Well, he acknowledged these concerns. You know, he said several times he's a dad of three kids, that he really cares about safety. He talked about new features the company is rolling out, like reminders to take a break from scrolling and these forthcoming parental controls. But Mosseri also pushed back on the idea that Instagram is harmful. He says the research that found it exacerbated body image issues was more nuanced than it had been portrayed.

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MOSSERI: Research actually shows that on 11 of 12 difficult issues that teens face, teens are struggling, said Instagram helps more than harms.

BOND: And what he suggested is that tech companies really should come together to propose safety standards for kids on social media because he says this is not just about one company, Instagram. It's about its competitors like TikTok and YouTube, where kids are actually spending even more of their time.

INSKEEP: And it's even bigger than that because it's also about free speech. So what did senators think of what Mosseri had to say?

BOND: Well, they were really deeply skeptical of everything that they heard from him yesterday. Here's Republican Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee on a call with reporters after the hearing.

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MARSHA BLACKBURN: He does not understand the intensity of opposition that the American public has to how they are managing the Instagram platform.

BOND: Blackburn said these safety changes the company has announced are just too little, too late. So Republicans and Democrats, lawmakers, are saying it's time for new laws to regulate tech. They're not going to wait on the companies to do anything about this. But, of course, this is what we've heard them saying for a while, Steve. And we are still waiting on any of these legislative proposals to move forward.

INSKEEP: NPR's Shannon Bond, thanks so much.

BOND: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.