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Utah Senator Mike Lee questions Instagram head about teen internet safety

A person looks at Instagram on their phone.
Pixabay

Social media apps are popular with teens, but harmful content on these apps have been blamed for increases in low self-esteem, body image issues and eating disorders in younger users.

The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, released a statement December 7 outlining Instagram’s future goals for protecting teens from harmful content. However, Utah Senator Mike Lee felt Instagram is not doing enough. Lee recently spoke to Mosseri in a Senate commerce hearing about his concerns.

Instagram requires users to submit their age, so to test Instagram’s age-based content filtering, Lee’s staff created a fake Instagram account, pretending to be a 13-year-old girl. Then they explored recommended content on the social media platform. At first, Lee said, they saw benign suggestions, but once they began following the app’s top recommended content, they quickly began to see age-inappropriate content.

“After following that account, we went back to the ‘explore’ page, and the content quickly changed. It expanded into all sorts of stuff, including content that was full of unrealistic standards for women, including plastic surgery, and commentary on women's height content that could be detrimental to the self-image of any 13-year-old girl,” Lee said.

Mosseri argued that Lee’s experience with Instagram does not necessarily represent everyone’s experience, and that Instagram is working to set better standards.

“We invest more than I believe anybody else. $5 billion this year…we are calling on the entire industry, YouTube, Tik Tok, Snapchat, to come together to set industry standards that are approved by regulators, like here in the US, in order to make the internet more safe for not only kids online, but for everyone,” Mosseri said.

Lee urged Mosseri to acknowledge Instagram’s role in harmful content and likened it to the tobacco industry.

“I think we have to reach the point where we realize some real bad stuff is happening. And you're the new tobacco, whether you like it or not, and you've got to stop selling the tobacco to kids. Don't let them have it. Don't give it to them,” Lee said.

You can find a link to Senator Lee's Instagram report at https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/republicans/newsroom?ID=3342EAF9-D4B7-43C7-9E2C-ACDD40236B51