Facebook is facing calls from an international coalition of children’s health advocates to abandon its plans to build a version of Instagram for kids, reports The Guardian .
The campaign follows news that broke in March which revealed that Facebook is developing a version of Instagram that’s specifically aimed at children under 13. Instagram’s current policy prohibits kids under 13 from using the platform.
In an open letter organized by the youth advocacy non-profit the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, dozens of groups, individual advocates, and researchers call on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to ditch the plan, arguing that it would put young people at risk and do more harm than good.
A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to adolescents. Instagram, in particular, exploits young people’s fear of missing out and desire for peer approval to encourage children and teens to constantly check their devices and share photos with their followers. The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing.
Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships, and their inner sense of strengths and challenges during this crucial window of development. Moreover, young children are highly persuadable by algorithmic prediction of what they might click on next, and we are very concerned about how automated decision making would determine what children see and experience on a kids’ Instagram platform.
The letter goes on to argue that pre-teens who have established existing Instagram accounts by lying about their date of birth are unlikely to migrate to a “babyish” version of the platform, and that the real target for a kids’ version of Instagram is a much younger cohort that doesn’t currently use the platform.
Last month, Congress Democrats Edward Markey, Kathy Castor, Richard Blumenthal and Lori Trahan wrote to Zuckerberg to say they had “serious concerns” about his plans to make a version of Instagram for children.
“Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation,” the lawmakers wrote.
In 2017, Facebook launched Messenger Kids, which is aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 12. Following the launch, several children’s health advocates called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to discontinue the product, citing research that “excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.”
Facebook said it had consulted multiple experts during the app’s development, although a Wired report later revealed that the company had financial relationships with many of the people and organizations that advised on the product.