O Instagram is under renewed pressure on its teen policies, and the scrutiny could affect how advertisers approach the app when it comes to influence marketing and other brand safety considerations.
On Wednesday, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri testified before a Senate consumer protection subcommittee, where lawmakers asked about teen health. For months, lawmakers have been scrutinizing Facebook and Instagram, which now fall under the Meta corporate identity, for reports of how the platforms affect teen health.
In September, this issue was one of the biggest issues raised by whistleblower Frances Haugen. Haugen leaked internal reports suggesting that Instagram had found that some at-risk teens felt worse about themselves after using the app.
“Instagram is addictive,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told Mosseri during the hearing, adding that Instagram’s algorithm was designed to keep teenagers on the site.
Senators were enthusiastic about their inquiries, following more reports this week on what kind of content Instagram could serve teens. On Tuesday, the surveillance group Tech Transparency Project said it had run an experiment that found minors could be directed to drug dealers’ Instagram accounts.
While the audience’s focus was on teenagers, lawmakers also touched on topics that directly affect advertisers.
The use of influencers and creators was raised during hearings, an area in which Instagram and Facebook are aggressively investing. On Wednesday, in fact, Facebook announced a new program that would pay the most popular creators even
$35,000 a month to make Reels, short videos similar to TikTok.
Senator Marsha Blackburn asked about popular influencer Jojo Siwa, now 18, who once told Mosseri he had an Instagram account since he was 8 years old.
Mosseri, Blackburn said, told Siwa he “didn’t want to know,” and then the senator asked if that was his general attitude about kids sneaking around Instagram’s under-13 age restriction.
“It felt like you were encouraging kids who want to be online stars to start early and build their audience,” Blackburn said. “I would say it was a missed opportunity,” Mosseri said, refraining from using the conversation with Siwa as a teaching moment.
Siwa was also a popular child star on Nickelodeon, joined YouTube at age 13 and has appeared on Ad Age.
Instagram marketing plan
Senator Amy Klobuchar was interested in how Instagram spends its marketing dollars, and she cited an October report that said most of the company’s advertising goes to spur growth among teens.
Klobuchar said Instagram has increased its ad spending from $67 million in 2018 to $390 million this year. Instagram’s advertising strategy is a hot topic, especially for Publicis Groupe’s Spark Foundry, which recently became Meta’s official media agency. And now lawmakers are paying attention to how this media strategy works.
“His company saw the loss of teenage users as citing an ‘existential threat,’” Klobuchar said. “Considering that parents are seeing their children’s addiction to their products and other products as an existential threat.”
“Our children are not dairy cows,” said Klobuchar. Mosseri said he doesn’t “believe these statistics are correct” of Instagram, which spends most of its advertising budget marketing to teens.
Lawmakers didn’t just speak to Meta executives in their social media polls — TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube also testified to the impact of their services on teens.
New rules for teenagers
Instagram took a few steps ahead of this week’s hearing to adjust its teen policies. The company has introduced new parental controls so they can set time limits on their children’s activities and monitor their usage. Instagram has also limited when teens can be tagged in posts and when their Moments videos can be shared publicly in other people’s Moments.
Concerns about teens’ health and safety are already affecting how advertisers view Instagram and other platforms. Last month, Lush Cosmetics announced it would end its Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok accounts. Lush said it would still use Twitter and YouTube.
“All the apps are on the rise,” said a marketer for a popular brand, who spoke with Ad Age on condition of anonymity, to discuss Instagram audiences. Brands are being wary of the new regulatory climate, the merchant said.
Most big advertisers work with influencers and on platforms that cater to teens, and many brands advertise for Generation Z, a generation that is aging but could be up to 10 years old.
Lawmakers and Mosseri discussed new regulations that could change the way teens access social media. Mosseri advocated a policy that would record the age of users at the device level, that is, within mobile hardware, to prevent young users from inappropriately logging into more than 13 apps. Some lawmakers discussed raising this age limit.
Matter translated from Adage.
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