Former Meta Engineering Executive to Provide Congressional Testimony on Instagram’s Negative Impact on Teens

by Michael Nguyen
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Instagram teen harm testimony

Arturo Bejar, a former engineering consultant at Meta, shared a concerning email with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the same day whistleblower Frances Haugen highlighted the detrimental effects of Facebook and Instagram on children during her congressional testimony in fall 2021.

In this correspondence, Bejar conveyed a personal incident involving his teenage daughter who, after posting about automobiles on Instagram, received a sexist comment. This incident, though not violating any specific policy, was indicative of the broader issue of online misogyny that goes unchecked on social media platforms.

“Two weeks ago, my 16-year-old daughter, who enjoys creating content on Instagram, made an automotive-related post. The response she received was a derogatory ‘Get back to the kitchen’ comment. This deeply disturbed her,” Bejar stated in his email. “Yet, the remark did not breach our community standards, and simply blocking or removing the individual does not prevent the perpetuation of such misogynistic behavior across other profiles. It’s my view that policy enforcement and increasing content moderation are not the ultimate remedies to this issue.”

Bejar is advocating for Meta to revamp its oversight approach, emphasizing the need to proactively address harassment, unsolicited sexual advances, and other negative interactions that may not explicitly transgress current policies. He underscored the urgency for tools that empower teens to report unwanted sexual messages that, while not directly contravening Instagram’s guidelines, are still inappropriate.

Two years on, Bejar is scheduled to present his insights before a Senate subcommittee concerning the intersection of social media and the adolescent mental health crisis on Tuesday. His testimony aims to illuminate the awareness Meta’s leadership, including Zuckerberg, had regarding the psychological harm Instagram inflicted on young users, and their apparent inaction in making substantial policy changes.

“Meta’s leadership was fully aware of the detrimental experiences teenagers were facing. There were feasible measures they could have implemented, yet they elected not to,” Bejar expressed to The Big Big News. This suggests, he believes, that “we cannot place our trust in them when it comes to our children’s safety.”

He refers to user feedback surveys indicating that a notable 13% of Instagram’s young user base, ages 13 to 15, reported unwanted sexual solicitations in the preceding week alone.

Bejar plans to clarify in his formal statement that the proposed reforms would likely not impose significant financial impacts on Meta or its industry counterparts. His intentions are not punitive but are aimed at the welfare of teenage users.

“Contrary to the company’s stance on the matter’s complexity, the solution is straightforward,” Bejar remarked to the AP. “Simply enable the youth to mark content as inappropriate for them, then leverage this data to refine the algorithms and enhance overall platform experience.”

This testimony coincides with a bipartisan legislative effort to enact stricter regulations for child protection on the internet.

Meta, in response, has stated, “Countless individuals both within and external to Meta are diligently working towards enhancing online safety for the youth. The issues highlighted through user perception surveys are a critical component of this mission. Such surveys have driven the creation of features like anonymous notifications for potentially offensive content and comment cautions. In collaboration with parents and specialists, we have developed over 30 tools to ensure a secure and positive online experience for adolescents and their families. We are dedicated to the continuous improvement of these efforts.”

For content that is viewed as objectionable yet does not breach Instagram’s policies, Meta cites its “content distribution guidelines” of 2021, which aim to limit the spread of “problematic or substandard” content on user feeds. This includes content categories such as clickbait, misinformation that has been fact-checked, and borderline content such as suggestive photos, profanity-laced speech, borderline hate speech, or graphic images.

In 2022, Meta rolled out “kindness reminders” to promote respectful interactions within direct messages, though this feature only applies when users are sending message requests to creators, not to the broader user base.

The upcoming testimony from Bejar follows closely on the heels of a collective lawsuit by numerous U.S. states against Meta, accusing the company of inflicting harm on young people and exacerbating the youth mental health crisis. These legal actions allege that Meta intentionally designs addictive features on Instagram and Facebook to hook children to their platforms.

Bejar emphasizes the critical need for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that will ensure transparency regarding these harms and provide adolescents with the necessary support from qualified experts.

“To effectively regulate social media entities, it’s imperative that they are mandated to develop metrics for both internal and external assessment of user harm incidents. This aligns with the companies’ strong suits, as they are inherently data-driven,” Bejar noted in his prepared testimony.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Instagram teen harm testimony

Who is set to testify before Congress about Instagram’s impact on teens?

Arturo Bejar, a former engineering leader at Meta, is scheduled to provide testimony to a Senate subcommittee on the negative impacts of Instagram on teenage mental health.

What concerns did Arturo Bejar raise in his email to Mark Zuckerberg?

Bejar raised concerns about the spread of misogyny and the harassment of teens on Instagram, including an incident involving his daughter, highlighting that current policies were insufficient to address these issues.

What reforms does Arturo Bejar suggest for Meta to implement?

Bejar suggests Meta should develop proactive tools for addressing harassment and unwanted sexual advances on its platforms, even if such issues do not explicitly violate existing policies.

What does Bejar claim about Meta executives’ awareness of the harms caused by Instagram?

Bejar claims that Meta’s executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, were aware of the harms Instagram could cause to teenagers but chose not to implement meaningful changes to mitigate these issues.

What are the contents of the user perception surveys mentioned by Bejar?

The surveys indicate that 13% of young Instagram users, specifically between the ages of 13 and 15, reported receiving unwanted sexual advances on the platform within the previous week.

What legislation is being considered in response to the issues raised?

There is a bipartisan push in Congress to adopt regulations aimed at protecting children online, in light of the testimony and evidence presented regarding social media’s impact on youth mental health.

How has Meta responded to the allegations of harm to young people?

Meta has highlighted their ongoing efforts to improve online safety for young users, citing over 30 tools and features designed to create a safer and more positive online experience for teens and their families.

More about Instagram teen harm testimony

  • Frances Haugen’s Testimony
  • Meta’s Content Distribution Guidelines
  • User Perception Surveys on Instagram
  • Bipartisan Legislation for Online Child Protection
  • Meta’s Response to Youth Mental Health Concerns
  • U.S. States’ Lawsuit Against Meta

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