Béjar said many Instagram accounts may post “awful, but not violating content” under the current rules, leaving teenagers with no recourse to complain or seek help.
After our interview, he says he has been “thinking about Molly Russell all day”. He said: “If you look at the kind of content that Molly was browsing, what percentage was violating?
“While the company talks about their safety features, what tools do they give teens when they get recommended content that is unwanted?”
The overall design of Instagram is not conducive to encouraging teenagers to report things that make them uncomfortable, according to Béjar.
Teens may fear reporting other users because it will reduce their engagement, he adds, while the design of the app’s reporting tools are too convoluted for younger users.
Executives at the $850bn tech giant were well aware of the potential harms caused by Instagram because he had warned them about them, he claimed.
His team’s research discovered that as many as 13pc of 13-to-15 year olds on Instagram had received an unwanted sexual advance in just a one-week period. At least 6.7pc of these children had also seen distressing self-injury posts in the last seven days.
In October 2021 – having spent months compiling his research – Béjar wrote an email to Zuckerberg expressing his concerns, but was ignored.
Two years later, he says little has changed. He told Senators that there was “no way, so far as I or teenagers I know can determine” to report unwanted sexual advances easily within the app.
Asked whether he felt Instagram was currently appropriate for a 13-year-old, Béjar said: “No it is not, it categorically is not.”
Béjar has worked in the technology industry since he was 15, beginning with IBM in Mexico City before a chance meeting with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Wozniak sent him an Apple computer and invited him to visit Silicon Valley. He later supported him while studying at King’s College London, before Béjar returned to California.
A security expert, he joined the company then known as Facebook in 2009, becoming an engineering director in the company’s Protect and Care team.
He left in 2015 to spend more time with his children. But by 2019 he had grown concerned that his daughter, who was 14 at the time, was receiving unwanted sexual advances on Instagram.
Béjar returned to Meta as a consultant to work on safety tech, but found his efforts were ignored.
His second stint at the company coincided with a series of damaging leaks about the social network company, compiled by the Wall Street Journal. Data scientist Frances Haugen ultimately went public in 2021 as the source of the leaks and handed a dossier of information to US Senators.