Head of Instagram agrees to testify as Congress probes app’s effects on young people

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, has agreed for the first time to testify before Congress, as bipartisan anger mounts over harms to young people from the app.

Mosseri is expected to appear before a Senate panel during the week of Dec. 6 as part of a series of hearings on protecting children online, said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who will lead the hearing.

Mosseri’s appearance follows hearings this year with Antigone Davis, global head of safety for Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, and with Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower. Haugen’s revelations about the social networking company, particularly those about Facebook and Instagram’s research into its effects on some teenagers and young girls, have spurred criticism, inquiries from politicians, and investigations by regulators.

In September, Davis told Congress the company disputed the premise that Instagram was harmful for teenagers and noted that the leaked research did not have causal data. But after Haugen’s testimony last month, Blumenthal wrote a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggesting that his company had “provided false or inaccurate testimony to me regarding attempts to internally conceal its research.”

Blumenthal asked that Zuckerberg or Mosseri testify in front of the consumer protection subcommittee of the Senate’s Commerce Committee to set the record straight.

“He’s the top guy at Instagram, and the whole nation is asking about why Instagram and other tech platforms have created so much danger and damage by driving toxic content to children with these immensely powerful algorithms,” said Blumenthal, who chairs the subcommittee. “The hearing will be critically significant in guiding us to develop laws that can have an impact on making platforms safer.”

Dani Lever, a Meta spokesperson, said in a statement: “We continue to work with the committee to find a date for Adam to testify on the important steps Instagram is taking.”

Blumenthal said he would question Mosseri about how Instagram’s algorithms can send children into dangerous rabbit holes. Since the subcommittee began its series of hearings, lawmakers have heard from hundreds of parents and children who have shared personal anecdotes, including stories of how posts on fitness devolved into recommendations for content related to extreme dieting, eating disorders and self-harm.

Blumenthal said he would seek a commitment from Mosseri to make Instagram’s ranking and recommendation decisions transparent to the public and to experts who can study how the app amplifies harmful content. Blumenthal said that executives at Snap, TikTok and YouTube who testified in a previous hearing have committed to algorithmic transparency.

While Zuckerberg has become accustomed to being hauled in front of US lawmakers, this will be the first time Mosseri will testify to them under oath. A trusted lieutenant to Zuckerberg who was chosen to lead Instagram in 2018, Mosseri has become the photo-sharing app’s public face, hosting regular video announcements about new features and appearing on morning television shows.

In September, before Davis’ Senate hearing, Mosseri appeared on NBC’s Today Show to announce that Instagram would pause the development of a version of the app designed for children following public backlash and renewed lawmaker interest sparked by Haugen’s leaks. BuzzFeed News first reported in March that the company was working on a version of Instagram for children under 13.

Mosseri’s scheduled appearance is the latest fallout from Haugen’s leaked files, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Those documents, called The Facebook Papers, have formed the basis for multiple complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission that Meta misled investors about its efforts to protect users.

Last week, a bipartisan group of 11 state attorneys general announced that it had opened an investigation into whether Meta had failed to protect the mental well-being of young people on its platforms, including Instagram.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.