Instagram's Systrom with Hearst's Young

NEW YORK It’s hard to believe that just seven years ago, Instagram did not exist. Now a vibrant platform with about 700 million total monthly users, Instagram has become another vital tool for media companies, brands and individuals to disseminate photos and messages.

Kevin Systrom, the cofounder and chief executive officer, who sold his company to Facebook in 2012 and has a net worth of about $1.5 billion, stopped by Hearst Tower here in Midtown on Thursday night to talk to Hearst Magazines Digital president Troy Young about his company’s mission, Russia’s involvement in political ads disseminated via social media, Silicon Valley’s bro culture and the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Below are some highlights from the interview.

On celebrities posting their encounters with Harvey Weinstein on Instagram:

What surprises me is that his behavior exists in the world. It surprises me that in 2017, we still have these issues. That’s for another talk and another day but I hope that by getting the message out some like Kate [Beckinsale] or Cara [Delevingne] can raise awareness about what these people are doing to them, that it exists in the world, that it’s a problem to be solved, that it hasn’t gone away, that in fact it has gotten worse in certain industries, and that you can’t get away with it.…While it’s surprising [that Beckinsale and Delevingne used Instagram to share], I am both hopeful and proud that people feel confident to come on to a platform and share that part of their life with people. I think the worst case is when they feel they can’t share that with people.

On Silicon Valley bro culture:

To say we don’t struggle with these issues at Instagram would be wrong. They exist everywhere. Whether it’s sexual harassment, gender pay gap, just people interrupting other people, it exists everywhere. But I think we’ve gone out of our way to create a work culture which is accepting, which acknowledges it. Everyone goes through bias training; people can partake in different support groups. And I think we’ve created a pretty open culture. When you’re a driven culture, being nice is really hard.

On Instagram’s role in the Russian meddling:

It’s a giant problem for the United States in general. The fact that we have another state meddling in our ability to unite as one nation, that is a problem that spans not just social media but technology and media. This is not the first time that a foreign actor has tried to do this in traditional media….Instagram is a small part of all the ads that ran. We use the same ad platform. But the good news is, we have some of the smartest people in the world working on exactly this problem. So I’m very optimistic. My prognosis would be that we, as a nation, will figure it out.

On Instagram’s beginnings and the rise of Snapchat:

Companies make this mistake all the time. They see themselves growing and they say: “That’s good.” How can it be bad if you’re growing and things are going well? Well, it turns out if the market is growing more quickly than you, you’re actually losing share.…What we realized when Snapchat came on the scene was, we were doing terrific with mobile photography, but we realized people like sharing content that doesn’t go to the feed. That was a signal to us that we were not providing something to our users that they care deeply about. It’s a wake-up call when you see your market is expanding quickly even though you’re growing, and you may be losing share. We wanted to make sure we could solve the problem for the consumer where they could share free of judgment but not take away Instagram. It was a bet we could do both at once.

On the future of media brands: 

We’re still going to have magazines and newspapers, and Jeff Bezos just poured a ton of money into The Washington Post to make sure it stays alive. I think it’s very important.…At the same time, the power of an individual to curate a playlist and distribute it in the world…to follow a bunch of people, that’s a curation I’m choosing now. All it is, is a tug back in the other direction, that the individual has a power that they didn’t have before to curate their experience.

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