Name: Instagram for kids.
Age: That is very much the question. How old are you? Old enough to be reading this pass notes, I hope.
Appearance: Ad-free, in case we corrupt the young.
What on earth are you on about? Well, it was revealed in March that Facebook was developing an Instagram service for kids. At present, under-13s are not supposed to use the photo-sharing app, although many lie about their age to do so. Now Facebook wants to create an Instagram site specially tailored for children that they can use legally.
Sounds dubious. Lawmakers in the US certainly think so. On Monday, attorneys general from across the country wrote to Mark Zuckerberg demanding he abandon the plan.
Their reasons? “Use of social media can be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account. Further, Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.” They are reflecting the concerns of child safety experts, who worry about body-shaming, cyberbullying and possible sexual grooming.
How has Facebook responded? It argues that it’s better to have dedicated spaces for children to stop them lying to get on to adult sites where there is no parental oversight. “We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing,” it says.
That’s one way of looking at it. Unfortunately, another of its platforms aimed at younger users, Messenger Kids, which was set up with a similar rationale, was shown to be porous to strangers via group chats. Facebook says it has now fixed the problem.
If it’s fixed, it’s fixed. There’s a broader problem. Child experts argue that kids over, say, 11 won’t want to use a “babyish” site designed for seven-year-olds. They will carry on lying about their age and stick to the “grownup” site, while the seven-year-olds who do use the new one will inevitably be exposed to social media pressures. Critics point to YouTube Kids, which, although also ad-free (as Instagram for Kids will be), has, they claim, used product placement to influence young users. (YouTube says its creators are asked to disclose any such placement.)
Where will it all end? Depends how far Facebook wants to push it. Having initially said it saw Instagram for Kids as a “priority”, and hiring the brains behind YouTube Kids to launch it, the company is now being emollient. “Any experience we develop must prioritise safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development. We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general.”
Not to be confused with: A childhood spent playing Poohsticks, putting jumpers down for goalposts, bouncing around on a space hopper or riding a Raleigh Chopper. All very unhealthy – indeed, dangerous – pursuits.
Do say: “The key to this is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.”
Don’t say: “Let’s get Nick Clegg on to discuss the subject.”