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15 Apr, 2021 15:00

Children’s groups urge Zuckerberg to cancel plans for ‘Instagram for kids’

Children’s groups urge Zuckerberg to cancel plans for ‘Instagram for kids’

Dozens of children’s advocacy groups have called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to scrap plans for a version of photo-sharing and body-shaming app Instagram for kids under 13, saying it would “put young users at great risk.”

Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, is working on “a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time,” according to a Buzzfeed report last month. 

Though Instagram currently requires users to be over 13 years of age, many younger users simply lie to sign up, and once online are exposed to an endless parade of glamorous celebrities and influencers, that has for years been blamed for rising rates of eating disorders, sleep disturbance, depression and suicidal ideation. While these problems are not unique to Instagram, the platform has specifically been identified as a hotbed of bullying and grooming by pedophiles.

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Creating a child-friendly version of the app won’t solve these problems, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood argued on Thursday, in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Signed by 36 other children’s advocacy groups and more than 60 doctors, lawyers and educators, the letter states that the planned app “is not the right remedy and would put young users at great risk.”

“In the elementary and middle school years, children experience incredible growth in their social competencies, abstract thinking, and sense of self,” the letter reads. “We are concerned that a proposed Instagram for kids would exploit these rapid developmental changes.”

Moreover, the signatories argue that children already using ‘adult’ Instagram are unlikely to “migrate to a ‘babyish’ version of the platform after they have experienced the real thing.”

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Even if they did migrate, they wouldn’t just face social pressure from influencers and their peers. They’d also face commercial pressure from Facebook itself. Instagram is lucrative for advertisers, and Facebook prides itself on its ability to monetize every data point it has on its users. For example, an internal report leaked in 2017 revealed that the company can monitor posts and photos to determine when young people feel “stressed,” “defeated,” “overwhelmed,” “anxious,” “nervous,” “stupid,” “silly,” “useless” and a “failure,” and use this information to target ads toward them.

According to your congressional testimony, Instagram for kids is in the early planning stages. We urge you to abandon those plans. Doing so would send a strong message that Facebook understands the vast concerns about the effects its business model is having on young people, and is open to solutions that truly benefit children and teens, not just Facebook’s market share. 

Facebook spokeswoman Stephanie Otway told the New York Times that the company won’t show ads on any app aimed at under-13s, and that Facebook will consult with children’s health and safety experts to make the app “safe and age-appropriate.”

Zuckerberg is no stranger to controversy, and has been hauled before Congress six times since 2018. Pressed by both Democrats and Republicans, Zuckerberg has defended Facebook’s data collection, election security, and censorship policies, and denied that his platform discriminates against conservatives. 

His latest plans have put him in Congress’ crosshairs again, with Democratic lawmakers writing a letter to him earlier this month to express “serious concerns” about the safety of an underage Instagram.

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