Facebook halts its plans for an ‘Instagram for Kids’ – aimed at ages 10 to 12 – after being accused of ignoring its own research into the harm to children’s wellbeing caused by Instagram.
An article reported by the Wall Street Journal accuses Facebook of ignoring and covering up evidence of the harm caused to teenagers, particularly girls, by Instagram. Further on in the article, it reports that an internal Facebook presentation noted that among teenage social media users who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the issue back to Instagram.
Another presentation from 2019 said, “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” while a later slide deck added: “Thirty-two per cent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse”.
Facebook has spoken out against the allegations, stating the article deliberately mischaracterises them, and “conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook’s leadership and employees.”
The article increased the scrutiny on the dark side of social media at a time when Facebook is facing criticism from many angles.
It even caught the attention of US politicians who outright called for the company to abandon Instagram for Kids.
Bowing to pressure, on Monday Facebook said in a statement that it would ‘re-evaluate’ the project:
While we believe building ‘Instagram Kids’ is the right thing to do, Instagram, and its parent company Facebook, will re-evaluate the project at a later date. In the interim Instagram will continue to focus on teen safety and expanding parental supervision features for teens. – Statement Issued by Facebook
Children under the age of 13 are not supposed to use Instagram, although this is easily circumventing by many by lying about their age. The planned new product, known informally as ‘Instagram for Kids’, would be aimed at the ages 10 to 12 demographic with parents having some control over their usage.
The problem with this is that a similar Facebook product called Messenger Kids was found to be open to abuse by strangers who were able to enter chatrooms.
The plans have been steadily pulled back as more and more advocacy groups, parents, and lawmakers have lined up to take aim at the proposed product plan.
In April, advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, saying Instagram for Kids would create “challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing”.
Us Representative Lori Trahan and Senator Richard Blumenthal welcomed the announcement that Facebook would be delaying Instagram for Kids but said in a statement it should go further and ditch the project as a whole.
“We are pleased that Facebook has heeded our calls to stop ploughing ahead with its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children. A ‘pause’ is insufficient, however.
Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online and it must completely abandon this project.”