Instagram chief faces backlash after awkward comparison between cars and social media safety


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Adam Mosseri, Facebook
Beck Diefenbach | Reuters

Adam Mosseri, the head of Facebook‘s Instagram service, came under a flurry of criticism Thursday after comparing the value of social networks to society to that of cars.

“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,” Mosseri said Wednesday on the Recode Media podcast. “And I think social media is similar.”

The comments come after a series of reports by The Wall Street Journal this week based on internal Facebook files. A Tuesday report from the series revealed Facebook has repeatedly found its Instagram app is harmful to a number of teenagers. Among the findings was an internal presentation that said 32% of teen girls said Instagram made them feel even worse when they were feeling bad about their bodies.

Following the report, U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle demanded answers from Facebook about how its services impact the mental health of teens and children. Some called on the company to abandon its plans to launch a kids version of Instagram.

Mosseri’s comparison of Instagram to cars came after podcast host Peter Kafka asked the executive if the service should be pulled or restricted if there’s a chance it could really harm people in the same way that cigarettes can harm people.

“Absolutely not, and I really don’t agree with the comparison to drugs or cigarettes, which have very limited, if any, upsides,” Mosseri said. “Anything that is going to be used at scale is going to have positive and negative outcomes. Cars have positive and negative outcomes.”

Numerous Twitter users criticized Mosseri for the comparison and pointed out that, unlike social media, the automobile industry is heavily regulated. Among those critics was former Facebook executive Brian Boland.

“We also have regulations and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for cars. Maybe @mosseri should read Unsafe At Any Speed?” Boland tweeted.

Kafka asked about the regulation surrounding cars, to which Mosseri responded he does believe that some social media regulation is needed.

“We think you have to be careful because regulation can cause more problems,” Mosseri said on the podcast. “But I do think we are a big enough industry that it’s important, and we need to evolve it forward.”

Mosseri went on the defensive on Twitter after the wave of criticism, calling the car analogy “less than perfect,” but saying that Facebook executives stand by the belief that social media connecting people does more good than bad.

“Headline culture – which yes, I know, social media has contributed to – is exhausting,” Mosseri said among his series of tweets Thursday morning.

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