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Instagram chief says it will roll out 'take a break' feature, is pausing Instagram for kids project

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri joined TODAY in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report that suggested the app is "toxic" for teen girls.
/ Source: TODAY

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri said the app is pausing work on a version of the app aimed at children and is planning to introduce features to better protect kids, following a Wall Street Journal report earlier this month alleging that the company knew the app can have a harmful effect on teen girls.

Instagram, owned by Facebook, had previously announced it was working on a version of the app geared toward young users, called Instagram Kids. But Mosseri revealed on TODAY Monday that the project is being put on pause in an effort to incorporate more parental controls on the current app.

"Parents of kids of all ages are looking for more ways to supervise and control their kids experiences online, and so the idea is that we're going to bring these parental controls as an optional feature to teens everywhere," Mosseri told TODAY's Craig Melvin.

"We're still working through the details, but the idea would be that they could see what their kids are doing. They could manage how much time the kids spend on the app, and they could possibly approve things, like who they can message and who they can follow."

While the company's current focus is on launching these features in the next few months, Mosseri said he believes a separate product for kids under 13 would still have a positive impact.

He added that it could also help fix the problem of kids under 13 getting accounts without their parents' knowledge. (Currently, the app only allows people 13 and up to create accounts, but Mosseri acknowledged that many users younger than that use it.)

"As a father, the most important thing to me is the safety of my children," he said. "I have to believe that a world where there's a version of Instagram that's designed for tweens, one where there's no ads, where there's age-appropriate content and where a parent can choose to let their child use it and control things like who they follow and who they message, is better than the alternative."

The app is also planning to roll out new additions to address the mental health of users of all ages.

"If anybody leaves using Instagram feeling worse about themselves, that's an important issue that we need to take seriously," Mosseri said. "We have a number of ideas in the world of body image and negative social comparison."

One is called "nudges," where if a user is going deep on one topic, the app will encourage them to try another topic, Mosseri said.

The second is called "take a break," where a user can put their Instagram account on pause for a period of time without others being able to address you or comment on your content.

Mosseri went on to praise the research the company is doing, as he said it allows for product improvements.

"For instance, we announced a couple of years ago we wanted to lead on the issue of online bullying, and the research we did when we asked kids and teens why they didn't block people who are harassing them on Instagram was that they were worried about fear of retribution, because it's these kids in school," he recalled.

"Also, they needed to track what was being said about them, so that inspired the 'restrict' feature, which we launched a few years ago. So over the years, we're constantly doing this research, both internally and externally, and using it to inspire changes."

Earlier this month, a report in The Wall Street Journal detailed two leaked studies from Instagram, including one 2019 slide that read, "We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls."

Facebook clarified that this refers to teen girls who already experienced body image issues, not all teen girls.

Another slide read: “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Facebook responded to the report in a blog post Sunday, stressing that the research found that for teen girls who experience issues like loneliness, anxiety and sadness, it "made those difficult times better rather than worse.

"Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse as compared to the other 11 areas," the company said.

A Facebook executive is slated to testify in a Senate hearing on kids' safety on its apps later this week.