Adam Mosseri isn’t doing Facebook any favors.
The head of Instagram was interviewed on the Recode Media podcast this week following a damning series of articles in the Wall Street Journal based on leaked internal Facebook documents. In the interview with host Peter Kafka, Mosseri attempted to defend the negative effects his platform has on its users by comparing social media to cars. The gist of his argument? Some people are just going to get run over, and that’s the price we all pay.
“We know that more people die than would otherwise because of car accidents, but by and large cars create way more value in the world than they destroy,” argued Mosseri. “And I think social media is similar.”
“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” read one 2019 internal slide obtained by the paper. “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” read another.
A fashion car wreck.
Credit: Arturo Holmes / getty
In response to Mosseri’s car comments, Kafka rightly pointed out that automobiles are subject to intense safety regulation on a federal level, which Mosseri countered by pivoting between saying social media regulation is welcome and, well, that it’s also potentially problematic.
“We think you have to be careful,” he said, “because regulation can cause more problems.”
Kafka was not the only one to see and highlight the inconsistency in Mosseri’s defense. Many on Twitter were quick to point out that Mosseri had come up empty when grasping at straws.
Mosseri’s analogy involving fatal car crashes may have been a little too on the nose. The Facebook research reported by the Journal found that, as the paper put it, “Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, one presentation showed.”
While Mosseri’s framing of social media as an ultimate societal benefit that just so happens to have some rather nasty negative externalities may come as a shock to some listeners of the Recode Media podcast, it follows in a long line of outlandish self-justification done by Facebook executives.
In 2018, BuzzFeed News published a memo written by then Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth (Bosworth has since managed to fail up to the head of Facebook’s Reality Labs, the division behind the privacy disaster in waiting that is Facebook’s camera glasses). The 2016 document painted a damning picture of a company dead set on ignoring the real-world consequences of its services.
The memo argued that Facebook’s purpose was to connect people, and sure people might die as a result, and that would be bad, but that wouldn’t slow the company down.
“Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies,” wrote Bosworth. “Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people.”
It sounds like Mosseri and Bosworth have a lot to talk about. Too bad for the rest of us that the men’s collected influence on the lives of billions means we’ll all be forced to listen.