Dec 9, 2021 - Podcasts

Instagram on the defense

The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, came to Capitol Hill yesterday with a message for senators: his company could and will do better in protecting teens. He was defending the social media app from growing bipartisan backlash over its reported potential harmful impact on teens, especially girls.

  • Plus, creating a haven for abortions in California.
  • And, a new zero carbon emissions goal for the federal government.

Guests: Axios' Margaret Harding McGill, Oriana Gonzalez, and Ben Geman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Michael Hanf, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Thursday, December 9th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re watching today: creating a haven for abortions in California. Plus, a new zero carbon emissions goal for the federal government. But first, today’s One Big Thing: Instagram on the defense...over teen mental health.

The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, came to Capitol Hill yesterday with a message for Senators: his company could and will do better protecting teens. He was defending the social media app from growing bipartisan backlash over its reported harmful impact on teens, especially young girls. Axios’ technology reporter Margaret Harding McGill listened in to the testimony in case you didn’t have to! Hi, Margaret.

MARGARET HARDING MCGILL: Hey, thank you for having me.

NIALA: Margaret, what stood out to you most about yesterday's hearing?

MARGARET: Mosseri was pressed on Instagram for kids. This idea that Instagram was working on a version of its app targeted at 10 to 12 year-olds, and that had alarmed lawmakers and he eventually agreed to pause it, but he would not agree in the hearing to say it's paused permanently. And the other news, I think, that he made out of it was that they're working on, uh, a version of the app that will allow users to see posts in chronological order, rather than being determined by the algorithm with the idea that this will give people more control over their experience. One of the things that really stood out to me is some of the arguments over age verification, that has to do with how these apps determine how old their users are and so what rules will apply to their experience. And Instagram says that it's very difficult for them to determine the age of their users, but lawmakers are pretty skeptical because look at all the information they collect on you to target ads. So the debate about age verification did not carry a lot of water.

NIALA: There was a lot of talk throughout the hearing about adopting best practices. What is Instagram promising here?

MARGARET: Well, ahead of the hearing, they came with a bunch of changes that they were going to implement. Some that they already have, including this Take a Break feature, which will prompt users to step away from the app after they've been on for a certain amount of time. They also are going to roll out a feature that will, if they notice a user is dwelling on one topic for a certain amount of time, nudge them to another topic. But I think that his broader message was the issues that Instagram faces are issues that other companies like TikToK and YouTube also face when it comes to young users. And so his message was really, hey, this is an industry wide challenge that requires industry-wide solutions. But the lawmakers, they did not respond well to that idea because I think from their perspective, the time for self-regulation and self-policing is over when it comes to Big Tech, and they say that they intend to do regulating of their own.

NIALA: What change might lawmakers support doing here?

MARGARET: Yeah, I think this hearing was an interesting one because you saw both Republicans and Democrats really focusing on the substantive issues of protecting young people online. A couple of decades ago, lawmakers got together on a bipartisan basis and passed, uh, Children's Online Privacy law. And since then the internet has changed. And I think an update to that law is probably the area most likely to see actual legislation that becomes law, making the rules of the road for kids online, um, to fit the internet we have now, not the internet we had in 1998.

NIALA: Margaret Harding McGill covers tech policy for Axios in D.C. Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET: Thank you.

NIALA: In 15 seconds: abortion activists prepare for the possible end of Roe v. Wade.

Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. After oral arguments at the Supreme Court on a high-stakes Mississippi abortion case last week, it seems more likely than ever that Roe vs. Wade - America's central protection for abortion rights - could be overturned. Now abortion providers and supporters in California are proposing measures that would make the state a haven for people seeking abortions if Roe disappears.

Axios’ Oriana Gonzalez has been following this. Oriana, can you first just remind us what would happen across the country if Roe vs. Wade were to be overturned? That would not automatically make abortion illegal in every state?

ORIANA GONZALEZ: If the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, 12 states would make the procedure illegal. They have what is called trigger laws that have it set so that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, weakened etcetera, then the procedure will become immediately illegal in those states. However, on the other side, we have 15 states and Washington D.C., including California that have the right to having an abortion codified meaning that it is completely guaranteed there.

NIALA: So the recommendations are to quote “protect, strengthen, and expand” abortion care in California. How would that happen and who is recommending this?

ORIANA: So the California Future for Abortion Council, which is comprised of about 40 organizations, they are abortion providers, advocacy groups, etcetera, and they say that they're also supported by Gavin Newsom's office, this group made a series of recommendations to make sure that abortion is more easily accessible in the state to California residents and out of state residents. Some of the recommendations that they make is asking state politicians to increase funding for abortion fund organizations, for providers, as well as to improve infrastructure.

Another recommendation that they made is asking state lawmakers to reimburse providers for services that people may not be able to afford. They also want the state to extend protections for abortion providers. These would be legal protections for abortion providers and for patients that are seeking treatment. And another interesting recommendation that they made is giving scholarships to those training as physicians, nurse practitioners, midwives that are dedicated to providing abortion care in rural areas for whom abortion may not be as easily accessible.

NIALA: Do we know if people seeking abortions would actually flock to California because it's just geographically not easy for most people in the country to get to California?

ORIANA: So the Guttmacher Institute actually did a study on what would happen in states in terms of traveling if the Supreme court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, and what they found was that actually up to 1.4 million women would travel to California. Because again, this is a state where the right to having an abortion is codified so they have it guaranteed that if they're seeking an abortion, they can access it in that state.

NIALA: Axios’ Oriana Gonzalez. Thank you, Oriana.

ORIANA: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: President Biden signed an executive order yesterday that requires the federal government to reduce its emissions and achieve net zero by 2050. I asked Axios energy reporter Ben Geman to explain why and if this really matters. Hey Ben. You know, people hear about executive orders and I think it's natural to wonder, is this an actual significant step or is this political performance?

BEN GEMAN: I would say it is a medium-big deal. I mean, look, the federal government is a gigantic buyer and consumer of energy. So will this executive order on its own knock the U S greenhouse gas emissions trajectory downward in a big way? No, but that doesn't mean it can't do really important things. And, you know, I think that's for a couple of big reasons. One is just the size and scale of the federal government in its own right. Okay I mean, you know, there are 300,000 buildings, a fleet of 600,000 cars and trucks, annual purchasing power of $650 billion in goods and services. And so what that can do is create something of a market demand poll for cleaner energy technologies, right? Will this put the U.S. on a path to net zero emissions as an entire economy by 2050? No, absolutely not. But is it another step that the federal government can take under its own power to say, ‘hey, we are going to show that there is going to be a marketplace for clean technologies.’ It's absolutely important from that respect.

NIALA: But Ben, President Biden has also been criticized for not banning oil or gas expansion. Does that negate these efforts?

BEN: So I don't necessarily think that there is a contradiction between the idea that the Biden administration wants to see more, for example, OPEC production in the near term, while simultaneously trying to lessen long-term oil demand. That said, the environmental movement, at least swaths of the environmental movement, would like to see far more aggressive steps from the administration in terms of throttling domestic fossil fuel production. But the administration is not prepared to sort of go where some of the activists would like to go in terms of trying to in the near term, greatly diminishing US production. That is not something that the administration is seeking to do at this point.

NIALA: Axios Energy reporter, Ben Geman. Thanks Ben.

BEN: Thanks for having me on.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! Remember you can always text me with feedback, questions, or story ideas: the number is (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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