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Instagram Head Faces Senate Rage on Whistle-Blower Claims

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(Bloomberg) -- Instagram’s chief heads to Capitol Hill Wednesday to face lawmakers who are still angry over whistle-blower revelations and unlikely to be mollified by changes billed as making the platform safer for young users.

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Adam Mosseri will have to respond to an array of accusations from senators who have compared Instagram’s parent company -- which changed its name from Facebook to Meta Platforms Inc. in a corporate rebranding effort -- to tobacco firms that hid the deadly consequences of their products from Congress and the public.

Mosseri plans to call on Congress to form a new regulatory body to establish best practices for the industry, especially regarding safeguards for children and teens online, according to a copy of his prepared remarks obtained by Bloomberg. He will say that online platforms should only enjoy the legal liability protections granted by Section 230 of a 1996 law if they adhere to the new entity’s guidelines.

“I hope we can work together -- across industry and government -- to raise the standards across the internet and better serve young people,” Mosseri plans to say. “With teens using multiple platforms, it is critical that we address youth online safety as an industry challenge and develop industry-wide solutions and standards.”

Mosseri’s written remarks also outline new product features Instagram announced Tuesday. The changes will let users of the photo-sharing app set a reminder to take breaks from scrolling, limit the interaction between teens and people they don’t follow, and provide more tools for parental control.

Read More: Instagram to Nudge People to ‘Take a Break’ From Social App

Much of Congress’s anger since former product manager Frances Haugen shared thousands of internal documents with federal authorities and journalists has focused on risks for children on teens online. The Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee holding Wednesday’s hearing has led the investigation of Facebook since the initial reports based on Haugen’s documents.

Subcommittee chair Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said Instagram’s new features are “baby steps” that should have been implemented long ago. He and other lawmakers have said they don’t trust tech companies to police themselves and have vowed to pass tougher rules to protect privacy and hold platforms responsible for the way they disseminate information.

Although there are several bills in Congress to set new guardrails for online platforms, there’s little consensus about the best approach to regulate a complex and fast-moving industry. Next year, before the November midterm elections, will be a crucial window for lawmakers to pass any tech-focused legislation.

Haugen testified before the same subcommittee in October and urged lawmakers not to give Facebook a “free pass” for product designs that she said maximize for engagement -- which translates into more ad dollars and profit -- even at great cost to individuals and society.

Read More: Whistle-Blower’s Guide to Fixing Facebook Centers on Algorithms

The subcommittee also heard from Antigone Davis, global head of security for what’s now Meta Platforms, in September. That was shortly after published reports based on internal documents from Haugen, including studies that showed the use of Instagram aggravates mental health risks for teens with body image issues. Davis downplayed those findings, saying they were based on a small sample size and didn’t establish a causal relationship.

Just days before Davis’s testimony, Mosseri said Instagram would pause development of a product designed for children, although he defended the concept as the best option for potential users younger than Instagram’s current minimum age of 13. Lawmakers have since pushed the company to commit to ending the project altogether.

(Updates with Mosseri’s opening statement from third paragraph)

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