Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, stated that any version of the photo-sharing app must prioritize safety and privacy, and that experts in child development, child safety, and mental health will be consulted.
A bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, pleading him to abandon all plans to build an Instagram for kids, citing the negative health impact of social media on children and Facebook’s allegedly shady history of child protection on its website.
The letter was written in response to questions from federal lawmakers who have expressed concern about the effect of social media on children. The issue was raised by lawmakers during a House hearing with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in March.
The bipartisan group of AGs cited news reports and research findings that showed social media, particularly Instagram, had a negative impact on children’s mental health, including lower self-esteem and suicidal ideation.
Later, Republican staffers on that committee emphasized online safety for children as the most important concept lawmakers should consider in their legislation.
Young children, according to the attorneys general, “are not equipped to handle the range of challenges that come with having an Instagram account.” These difficulties include issues of online privacy, the permanence of internet posts, and determining what is appropriate to view and share. They noted that by 2020, Facebook and Instagram had reported 20 million images of child sexual abuse. It’s important that teens and parents are equipped with information on how to manage their time on the platform so that it’s thoughtful, safe and intentional.”
In defining their role as protectors of what they call “our youngest citizens,” the state attorneys general wrote that Facebook’s plans to create a version of Instagram for kids under the age of 13 to share photos and content online “is contrary to that interest.”
The project, which has been dubbed “Instagram Youth” internally, has yet to be given a firm deadline. Due to federal privacy rules, children under the age of 13 are not permitted to use the Instagram app in its current form. However, Facebook confirmed an online article in March, claiming it is “exploring a parent-controlled experience” on Instagram.
“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it,” the company stated. “We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general.”
Following publication, Facebook issued an updated statement acknowledging that since children are already using the internet, “We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing. We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates.”
In their letter, the state attorneys general warned of the “alarming rate of cyberbullying,” pointing to a 2017 survey which found that at least 42% of young Instagram users had been the victim of cyberbullying. It is said to be the highest percentage of that behavior experienced on any platform that has been measured.
According to the survey, technology platforms encourage cyberbullies to say and do things that are more cruel than what traditional schoolyard bullies would do.
In a March blog post published on Instagram’s website, the company quoted Dr. Dave Anderson, a Clinical Psychologist with the Child Mind Institute, who stated, in part, that “Instagram can provide young people with the opportunity to strengthen connections, practice social skills, and find supportive communities.”
Facebook is not the only social media platform that has developed services for children. Google-owned YouTube, for example, has a kids service, but as with any internet service, there are usually ways for children to lie about their age in order to access the main site.