CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Instagram algorithm test “is scary,” says Utah state senator

Dec 4, 2023, 3:00 PM

FILE - The Instagram app icon on the screen of a mobile device. With an eye on testing the Reels al...

FILE - The Instagram app icon on the screen of a mobile device. With an eye on testing the Reels algorithm, Wall Sreet Journal reporters and producers recently created Instagram "test accounts" They reported that "jarring doses of salacious content" were fed to those test accounts. (Jenny Kane, Associated Press)

(Jenny Kane, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Results of an Instagram algorithm test conducted by the Wall Street Journal were not a surprise to a Utah lawmaker who is already working to help Utah kids stay safer online.

In the last legislative session, Utah Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, sponsored a bill that Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed into law in March 2023. SB152, or the Utah Social Media Regulation Act, places several restrictions on social media companies within the state of Utah including age verification and parental consent requirements.

Of the Wall Street Journal’s findings? “I think it’s shocking,” McKell told KSL NewsRadio. “I think it’s scary. And it’s not just Instagram.”

 

In a nutshell, WSJ reporters and producers created “test accounts” on Meta-owned Instagram. They wanted to test the Reels algorithm to see what videos Instagram would feed to a user who watched young gymnasts, cheerleaders, “and other teen and pre-teen influencers active on the platform,” the WSJ writers explained in their report.

The WSJ concluded that the algorithm served “jarring doses of salacious content to those test accounts.”

Instagram actions involving algorithms don’t equal words

In the past, Meta has released tools that they say keep people safe on Instagram

But McKell said that the words and the actions of social media companies just aren’t adding up.

“These promises that social media companies continue to make (that) they’re protecting kids are just simply not true.”

What does seem to be adding up is frustration. The WSJ report is the latest investigation into how Instagram algorithms work. But in June 2023, the Standford Internet Observatory published findings about the creation and trading of Child Sexual Abuse Material, or CSAM. The SIO said specifically that, “Instagram is currently the most important platform for these networks, with features that help connect buyers and sellers.”

And this report blamed Instagram’s algorithms, specifically, for making it easy for people that want this type of content, to find it. In response, Meta reportedly created a task force to investigate the claims.

The ability to protect kids is already there, but …

McKell said that social media companies have told him that technologically, they can give consumers a safer social media experience.

The tools are already in their tool kit. But there’s just one problem.

“They don’t want to be at a competitive disadvantage … to me, that’s really telling.”

American states suing

Attorney Generals of thirty-three states, including Utah, have filed a lawsuit against Meta alleging the social media company designed the platform to addict young users. Similarly, Utah is suing TikTok arguing that the platform also harms young users.

Other states are getting pushback on social media laws passed by their state lawmakers, including California. Montana’s law outright banning TikTok from the state, was blocked by a federal judge last week.

Utah’s social media laws don’t take effect until March 2024, but McKell told KSL they’ll probably be revised before then.

“We’re reviewing legislation as we go into the 2024 legislative session, we feel good about where we’re at,” he said. “I think we will make some minor tweaks to our legislation to be responsive to some of the legal decisions.”

Related reading:

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

Daniel Martinez sentenced for Draper party shooting...

CARLYSLE PRICE, KSLTV.com

Daniel Martinez sentenced for Draper party shooting

Daniel Martinez was sentenced Thursday to 50 years in jail for the deaths of 2 people at a party at an Airbnb in Draper.

17 hours ago

Three men arrested at the Salt Lake International Airport in connection with a coordinated carjacki...

Eric Cabrera

LISTEN: Thieves using modern tech to steal cars

A longtime master tech said tools seen recently at the airport mirrors methods car thieves use to intercept garage door signals.

1 day ago

A West Haven boy has died after what police say was a child abuse homicide case....

Kennedy Camarena

Death of West Haven boy was result of child abuse homicide, police say

Police investigations have led to the arrest of three people after a West Haven boy died due to what police say was child abuse homicide.

1 day ago

One person was killed in Park City after state troopers say their car crashed into a tree and burst...

JOSH ELLIS, TV

One dead after car crashes into tree in Park City

One person was killed in Park City after state troopers say their car crashed into a tree and burst into flames early Thursday morning.

2 days ago

FILE - Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the former armorer for the Western film "Rust," listens to closing ar...

MORGAN LEE Associated Press

Movie armorer seeks dismissal of her conviction or new trial in fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin

'Rust' armorer seeks to dismiss her involuntary manslaughter conviction or convene a new trial after dismissal of Alec Baldwin's case.

2 days ago

Emery County's Search and Rescue Team and Department of Public Safety officials worked to rescue a ...

CARLYSLE PRICE, ksl TV

Three rescued from Zero Gravity slot canyon

A family was rescued from the Zero Gravity Slot canyon by Search and Rescue team after one man was “wedged between canyon walls."

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

A young woman smiles while reading the menu at a lakeside restaurant, enjoying the panoramic view o...

Bear Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau

The best restaurants to try in Bear Lake

Save this guide to the best restaurants in Bear Lake when you need to find a place to dine during your next visit.

Female leg stepping on weigh scales. Healthy lifestyle, food and sport concept....

Health Utah

Sustainable weight loss: the science-backed way to achieve it

Learn more about Debbie's weight loss journey with Health Utah, who have a unique weight loss philosophy for success.

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...

Comcast

Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

Instagram algorithm test “is scary,” says Utah state senator