On Monday, May 10, 2021, over 40 attorneys general published an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, begging him to not move forward with his plans to create Instagram for kids. The group cited Facebook’s past dalliances with child safety (simply put, they don’t always put the welfare of children at the forefront of their work), the lack of a need for Instagram for kids, the impacts of social media on kids, and more.
This comes after, in mid-March, Buzzfeed News broke a story about Facebook and Instagram executives working on developing an Instagram for children under 13, specifically. This news has clearly not been received positively by attorneys general, who have urged Facebook to stop with their plans immediately.
Here’s what the Instagram for kids plan is, and what the attorneys general letter says.
What is Instagram for Kids?
Instagram for Kids, per Buzzfeed’s reporting, is a so-called kid-friendly version of the app that is being developed at the company, which is owned by Facebook. Only kids 13 and below would be able to use the app.
An internal memo stated that youth work is a “priority for Instagram,” and that the company would be building “a new youth pillar… building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.” Currently, Instagram can only be used by people 13 and up.
This isn’t the first time that Facebook has tried to get kids into its user base. In 2017, Messenger Kids was launched, for kids age 6 to 12. That app was also met with widespread criticism, and subsequent reporting found bugs in the system that allowed kids to join messenger groups with strangers, despite the app being marketed as being safe for children.
There are privacy concerns, safety concerns, and concerns that the app is just another way for the company to expand its user base to young kids.
According to Buzzfeed, one of the people launching the initiative for Instagram for Kids is Pavni Diwanji, who worked at Google on their own kids’ products like YouTube Kids. YouTube Kids has been levied with accusations of being unsafe for children, despite its core premise as a business.
In 2019, accusations exploded against the platform of disturbing videos found on YouTube Kids, including school shooting simulations, suicide attempts, etc. While those videos were uploaded on to regular YouTube, not YouTube kids, they were able to eke past moderation filters and racked up hundreds of thousands of views, per Wired. The FTC also launched complaints against the company for similar reasons.
Simply put, Instagram for Kids will most likely be a lot like these two other platforms — and because no unmonitored internet use is safe for children, and no platform fully safe for kids, attorneys general are concerned.
What does the attorneys general letter say?
Attorneys general from 44 states and territories across the country published an open letter begging Facebook to stop in their attempts to launch Instagram for kids. The letter points to social media being harmful to the physical, social, and mental wellbeing of children, and in particular how Instagram has often been flagged as a hotbed of “suicidal ideation, depression, and body image concerns.”
They also say, quoting experts from Commercial-Free Childhood, who have been urging Zuckerberg to drop the plans for the app, that the app “exploits young people’s fear of missing out and desire for peer approval,” and that the app “presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing,” and that there are other, safer, ways for children to stay connected to family and friends.
The letter-writers note that children don’t have the capacity to understand, and deal with, inappropriate content they may inevitably see on Instagram kids and that predators could exploit the application and attempt to gain access for children, that bullying could be rampant on the platform, and that Facebook has a record of “failing to protect the safety and privacy of children on its platform, despite claims that its products have strict privacy controls,” pointing to the Messenger Kids debacle.
So… will Facebook drop its Instagram for Kids plans?
It is doubtful. Parents should know that social media is not safe for children and that the best parental control is sitting with your children as they play online.
Recent scandals with Roblox, YouTube Kids, Messenger Kids, and more show that even the most dedicated filters, algorithms, and teams of filter checkers can’t catch everything that goes on online — and that the safest option is to keep children offline.