Instagram’s intention to develop a version of its app just for kids continues to draw significant criticism, as an international coalition of 35 children’s and consumer groups have called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to discontinue its plans.
Facebook’s intention to create a version of its Instagram app just for kids was originally reported by Buzzfeed in March. Citing an internal company post that it obtained, Buzzfeed reported that Facebook planned to release the app that was being overseen by Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri and new hir Pavni Diwanji. Diwanji joined Facebook last December from Google where she was responsible for overseeing the development of children-focused projects like YouTube Kids.
As the New York Times reports, Facebook’s goal with a child-focused version is likely in response to complaints from both legislators and parents that the platform has been too slow to identify underage users and protect them from sexual predators and online bullying.
In the elementary and middle school years, children experience incredible growth in their social competencies, abstract thinking, and sense of self. Finding outlets for self-expression and connection with their peers become especially important. We are concerned that a proposed Instagram for kids would exploit these rapid developmental changes.
In a letter to Zuckerberg summarized by the Times, the nonprofit groups warn that making a version of the app that is designed just for kids would not mitigate those problems. The group maintains that those at the older end of the demographic with Instagram accounts are unlikely to switch to a “babyish version” while at the same time, a child-focused app would hook younger users into an endless routine that includes constant scrolling and body-shaming.
Excessive screen media use and social media use is linked to a number of risks for children and adolescents, including obesity, lower psychological wellbeing, decreased happiness, decreased quality of sleep,5,6 increased risk of depression, and increases in suicide-related outcomes such as suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts. Fifty-nine percent of US teens have reported being bullied on social media, an experience which has been linked to increased risky behaviors such as smoking and increased risk of suicidal ideation. Adolescent girls report feeling pressure to post sexualized selfies as a means of generating attention and social acceptance from their peers.
The Campaign for a Commecial-Free Childhood in Boston leads the substantial list of groups calling for the project to be scrapped, and says that while collecting data and cultivating a new generation of Instagram users may be good for Facebook’s bottom line, it’s bad for the users.
“It will likely increase the use of Instagram by young children who are particularly vulnerable to the platform’s manipulative and exploitative features.”
This letter follows a similar call from United States Lawmakers who in early April sent a long list of questions to Facebook about its intentions with the children-focused app. U.S. Senators — Edward Markley and Richard Blumenthal — and two Congresswomen — Kathy Castor and Lori Trahan — have sent a detailed four-page letter to Facebook’s CEO that notes major concerns and asks fourteen pointed questions.
Facebook has yet to directly respond to either letter, though Facebook spokeswoman Stephanie Otway says that the goal with the app is to allow access to the popular platform safely.
“The reality is that kids are online,” Ms. Otway said to the New York Times. “They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate.”
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