As lawmakers seek to understand the impact of social media platforms on young users, they are demanding answers straight from the top.
Instagram LLC CEO Adam Mosseri will testify to the Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security on Dec. 8. His appearance follows over two months of demands from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and other lawmakers for a C-level executive from Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. to testify.
The hearing comes after leaked documents from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed Facebook was aware that Instagram negatively impacted the well-being of some of its users, notably teenage girls.
Now, Mosseri's testimony may prompt lawmakers to better harmonize laws around social media usage for young people and kids. Daniel Lyons, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, may be reformed to expand its protections to children 13 and over. COPPA's protections currently only extend to children under 13 years of age.
"COPPA has done a pretty good job over the years in policing the use of information gathered about children online," Lyons said. He was joined by Haugen and other panelists who testified last week in a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about reforming Section 230, the liability shield law that protects platforms from being sued for inappropriate content posted by users.
If the age cap is increased, it means that Meta will have to innovate to capture younger users, an issue that the company has been struggling with on its legacy Facebook platform for years. "Facebook, in particular, has shown an interest in going after younger users because there is a perception that its brands are for older people," Lyons said. "They [Facebook] are very aware that 'dominant now' does not mean 'dominant forever.'"
Instagram had planned to launch an "Instagram Kids" designed for children under the age of 13, but the company paused that work in September amid Haugen's revelations.
Notably, any changes to COPPA would not just affect Meta and Instagram but would also impact other platforms such as Snap Inc.'s Snapchat or ByteDance's TikTok.
In other related news, U.S. lawmakers are considering a wave of proposals designed to ensure a safer and more transparent internet in the wake of concerns that online platforms are amplifying misinformation and extremist content to maximize profits.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee's Consumer Protection and Commerce subcommittee will hold a legislative hearing titled "Holding Big Tech Accountable: Legislation to Build a Safer Internet," on Dec. 9. Committee officials did not immediately respond to inquires about what specific legislation would be considered.
But the committee is holding its hearings at a time when lawmakers have become increasingly concerned about how social media platforms push out content to users' news feeds through algorithms and other technologies, said Alex Petros, policy counsel for Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group.
"The real back-end of how these platforms work is a mystery to just about everyone," Petros said. "They are very much a black box in that respect."
|Dec. 6||The full Senate will hold an executive session to consider the nomination of FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.|
|Dec. 8||The Senate Commerce Committee will hear testimony at 2:30 p.m. from Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri in a hearing examining social platforms' impact on younger users' safety and well-being.|
|Dec. 9||The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce will host a hearing at 10:30 a.m. titled "Holding Big Tech Accountable: Legislation to Build a Safer Internet."|
|Dec. 9||The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Communication, Media, and Broadband will convene a hearing titled, "Disrupting Dangerous Algorithms: Addressing the Harms of Persuasive Technology," at 10 a.m. to consider legislative solutions to the dangers of online platforms.|
|Industry, legal and think tank events|
|Dec. 8||The Technology Policy Institute will host a virtual panel called "Big Tech Antitrust Reform Proposals: Good Policy or Counterproductive?" that will explore the costs and benefits of proposals targeted at Big Tech companies.|
|Dec. 8||The Brookings Institution will host a webcast titled "Technology, inequality and democracy" that delves into the implications of new technology on global inequality.|
|Dec. 9||The Federal Communications Bar Association will host a virtual event focused on plans for allocating and awarding federal and state broadband funding.|
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