The head of Instagram said on Wednesday that the social media platform is working on a version that features a time-based feed, in a congressional hearing regarding the adverse impacts of the app on young children.
“We believe in more transparency and accountability and we believe in more control. That’s why we’re currently working on a version of a chronological feed that we hope to launch next year,” said Adam Mosseri to the Senate’s consumer protection subcommittee. Lawmakers have been summoning tech executives to explain the extent of their platform’s effect on users.
Instagram feed choices are fueled by its ranking algorithm that makes decisions based on user preferences. According to Mosseri, using the new feature, the platform could show posts based on when they were posted, which is preferred by many users who want to see their connection’s posts in a timely order.
The algorithm issue was discussed in part of the explanation Mosseri gave to lawmakers’ inquiries on how the company dealt with child safety on the platform.
Recent revelations, including that from Facebook (now known as Meta) whistleblower Frances Haugen who gave Wall Street Journal (WSJ) access to company documents, exposed how the platform was aware of its “toxic” effect on children, especially young girls.
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” said one of the slides from an internal message board, as reported by WSJ. According to the report, the popular app is known to aggravate depression and anxiety, along with eating disorders and body image issues, with some youngsters even contemplating suicide.
“Teens told us that they don’t like the amount of time they spend on the app but feel like they have to be present … They often feel ‘addicted’ and know that what they’re seeing is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop themselves,” said an internal document.
Mosseri, meanwhile, followed the footsteps of many Meta executives who had come before him and dismissed most of the allegations and findings. In response to a question regarding the app’s addictiveness, Mosseri said, “Respectfully, I don’t believe that research suggests that our products are addictive.”
While Facebook Head of Research Pratiti Raychoudhury wrote in a blog post, as a reply to WSJ findings, “It is simply not accurate that this research demonstrates Instagram is ‘toxic’ for teen girls,” Mosseri said that a solution could be found in developing another app specifically designed for youngsters.
“We know that 10- to 12-year-olds are online … we know that they want to be on platforms like Instagram,” he said.
Besides this, Mosseri recommended the creation of an industry regulatory body that could come up with legislation regarding online safety for children, based on inputs from parents and the larger society.
He added that the authority’s decisions could have implications on Section 230 protections enjoyed by social media platforms, under which the tech behemoths are not liable for content posted by users.
The senators, however, were not too keen on the regulatory proposal. “The time for self-policing is over,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Just a day before the hearing, Instagram had officially rolled out the “Take a Break” feature, which prompts users to take a break while browsing after using it continuously for a certain period of time.
“What you’ve suggested so far is underwhelming,” Blumenthal told Mosseri before ending Wednesday’s hearing, referring to Instagram’s new feature and other suggestions. “That ain’t gonna save kids from the addictive effects … of your platform.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said at the end of the hearing to Mosseri: “Have some empathy. Take some responsibility.”