Former Meta Engineer Testifies Before Congress About Instagram’s Impact on Teens

Meta Stock

On the same day whistleblower Frances Haugen was testifying before Congress in the fall of 2021 about the harmful effects of Facebook and Instagram on children, Arturo Béjar, a former contractor at the social media giant, sent a concerning email to Meta (NASDAQ:META) CEO Mark Zuckerberg regarding the same issue.

As initially reported by The Wall Street Journal, Béjar, who had previously served as an engineering director at Facebook from 2009 to 2015, highlighted a “significant gap” between the company’s approach to addressing harm and how users, particularly young people, experience it.

“My 16-year-old daughter, who is an aspiring Instagram content creator, posted about cars two weeks ago, and someone left a comment saying ‘Get back to the kitchen.’ It deeply upset her,” he wrote. “However, this comment doesn’t explicitly violate company policies, and our tools for blocking or deleting content mean that this person can continue to spread misogyny on other profiles. I don’t think merely enforcing policies or increasing content review is the solution.”

Béjar advocates for a change in Meta’s approach to platform oversight, with a specific focus on addressing issues like harassment, unwanted sexual advances, and other negative experiences, even if they do not clearly violate existing policies. For example, while sending explicit messages to minors may not breach Instagram’s rules, Béjar argues that teenagers should have a way to inform the platform that they do not wish to receive such messages.

Two years later, Béjar is now testifying before a Senate subcommittee, shedding light on how Meta executives, including Zuckerberg, were aware of the harm Instagram was causing to teenagers but chose not to make substantial changes to mitigate these issues.

“I can confidently state that Meta’s leadership was aware of the harm teenagers were enduring and knew about feasible solutions but chose not to implement them,” Béjar told The Associated Press. He asserts that this lack of action demonstrates that “we cannot entrust them with our children.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary’s privacy and technology subcommittee, introduced Béjar as an engineer “widely respected and admired in the industry” who was hired to protect children from harm but had his recommendations disregarded.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, the ranking Republican on the panel, added, “What you have brought to this committee today is something every parent needs to hear.”

Béjar points to user perception surveys, which indicate that 13% of Instagram users between the ages of 13 and 15 reported receiving unwanted sexual advances on the platform in the previous week.

Béjar maintains that the reforms he proposes would not significantly impact Meta’s revenue or profits. He emphasizes that these changes are not intended to penalize the companies but to support teenagers.

In a statement, Meta mentioned that it is actively working on safety measures for young users and highlighted features such as anonymous notifications of potentially harmful content and comment warnings, which have been developed in response to user perception surveys.

Béjar’s testimony comes in the midst of a bipartisan effort in Congress to establish regulations aimed at safeguarding children online. Just two weeks earlier, Meta faced legal action from numerous U.S. states, accusing the company of contributing to the youth mental health crisis and harming young people through its Instagram and Facebook platforms.

Béjar stressed the importance of bipartisan legislation that ensures transparency regarding the harms experienced by users and provides support for teens with the assistance of experts. In his prepared testimony, he asserted that the most effective way to regulate social media companies is to require the development of metrics to assess instances of harm experienced by users, leveraging the companies’ expertise in data analysis.


Featured Image: Unsplash

Please See Disclaimer

About the author: Stephanie Bedard-Chateauneuf has over six years of experience writing financial content for various websites. Over the years, Stephanie has covered various industries, with a primary focus on tech stocks, consumer stocks, health stocks, and personal finance. This stock lover likes to invest for the long-term. Stephanie has an MBA in finance.