Untested, Instagram’s new security features may not help

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri takes on Congress on Wednesday, armed with a host of new security features meant to protect young users on the social media platform, a response to revelations the company knew the photo sharing app can be toxic to kids and teens.

The new security measures help users manage their time on the app, limit exposure to sensitive content and unwanted interactions for ages 16 and under, and provide greater parental oversight.

Rachel Rodgers, Associate Professor Department of Applied Psychology. Photo by Adam Glanzman / Northeastern University

While these updates appear to be a positive step, they are unnecessary without proof that they work, said Rachel Rodgers, an associate professor of psychology at Northeastern who studies the effects of social media on body image.

“I am always interested in the changes that are implemented on the basis of the data. The data we react to is the clear observation that there are negative impacts. But it’s not clear to me that there is data to support the fact that these changes are the ones that would be helpful, ”Rodgers said.

At 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Mosseri is expected to testify before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security about the app’s potentially harmful effects on young Instagram users. New security features also allow teens to bulk delete old messages. Meta, which owns Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, has been under intense scrutiny for a Alert launcher revealed internal research showing that Instagram can exacerbate teenage body image issues.

“After explosive reports of Instagram’s toxic impacts, we want to hear directly from the company’s management why they are using powerful algorithms that push poisoned content at children leading them through rabbit holes in dark places,” and what it will do to make its platform more secure, “Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said in a statement released ahead of the hearing. Blumenthal, a Democrat, is chairman of the subcommittee.

Christie chung, a psychology professor at Mills College, added that the emotional echoes of negative online experiences can be felt long after a teenage or younger user logs off. Northeastern announced a merger with the college earlier this year that will create Mills College at Northeastern University in July 2022.

Christie Chung, Professor of Psychology and Associate Rector. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

“I think the most important thing about going online is that at the very end you remember how you feel. You remember the emotion you get from that experience,” said Chung, who studies emotional memories. “This is why it is so important to make sure, especially with young people, that they have a positive experience.

Rodgers’ research has shown that social media apps with a strong visual component like Instagram or TikTok are more likely to fuel body image issues than apps like Twitter, which is more text-oriented. And while there isn’t much data showing what can counter those feelings, Rodgers believes it starts with the youngest user.

“I think you need a better dissemination of knowledge on social media, in order to help young people understand that these images are not real, that they come with an intention, so that everyone is selling something. thing and that there are patterns behind the images, ”Rodgers said.

“In addition, we need to teach them to understand how these platforms affect them, and then they will be able to modulate their use appropriately. In other words, can they know when they are getting tense or when they are coming down a rabbit hole? Can they call each other and take a break? “

Senate hearing comes as concerns over adolescent mental health continue to mount national headlines. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy released a public health notice on Tuesday warning of mental health issues facing young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would be a tragedy if we pushed back one public health crisis just to allow another to develop in its place,” Murthy said in the advisory.

Meanwhile, several state attorneys general are continuing their investigation to find out if Instagram’s parent company broke consumer protection laws by promoting the app to younger users who know its use is associated with poor body image.

“I think the negative impacts on body image are pretty much undeniable at this point,” Rodgers said. “But I think we can mitigate them, and I don’t think we should put the burden on society to educate young people. I think we need a multi-pronged approach, and we need to look for ways to make these platforms less focused on appearance.

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