What is Instagram for Kids and when did this idea emerge?
Earlier this year, Facebook announced its plans to build an Instagram for Kids, a social media app for children under 13. Currently, Instagram(who is owned by Facebook) is supposed to only be used by those who are 13years or older according to its terms of service; however, the company has been battling trying to prevent younger children from creating accounts to access the platform.
The decision to create Instagram for Kids was made partly to reduce the incentive for children to lie about their age. According to Facebook, “children are asking their parents if they can join apps that help them keep up with their friends, find new hobbies and more. That’s why we’re working on experiences that gives them an age-appropriate alternative to our existing apps." Keep in mind that Facebook already has a social media app called Messenger Kids for children to keep up with friends who are approved by their parents.
Here’s what every parent should know about Instagram for Kids:
1. Facebook is under extreme pressure because of this
On April 15, 2021, a coalition of 100 public health advocates led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood urged Facebook to halt plans for Instagram for Kids. The message they drafted stated the following: "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, mental heath, and well-being."
Then on May 10, 2021, 44 Attorney Generals sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging the company to “abandon these plans.” Increasingly new evidence was revealed on how use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children. Furthermore, “Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms,” the letter read. These concerns are referring to sexual grooming, cyberbullying and collection of user information, according to the letter. “It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account," the letter says.
Another major concern is how social media sites collect data on minors. Back in 2019, the Federal Trade Commission ordered Google, which owns YouTube, to pay a $170 million fine for illegally collecting personal information from children under 13 without parents’ consent, which goes against the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Throughout the development of Instagram for Kids, Facebook has not addressed how it would handle the collection of personal information from children to prevent violating COPPA’s laws.
2. Kids have been accessing regular Instagram anyways
Many researchers and experts have agreed that if Facebook and Instagram already have a population of children under the age of 13.Building a new app isn't going to move those kids off the original Instagram to this more kid-focused platform. Additionally, this new platform will not guarantee that it will stop other children from attempting to make an account on the older Instagram by submitting a fake age. Instagram for Kids doesn’t solve the problem at hand. It just gives children another option for a social media account, and potentially justify allowing parents to get them on social media at an earlier and earlier age. At the end of day, Facebook’s real motivation would most likely be to create a space to capture a new audience of kids who aren’t even familiar with Facebook or Instagram yet.
3. The proposed development timeline is currently on pause
Because of all the protests and backlash, Facebook has decided to pause the development of the Instagram for Kids. The change indirection came just days before a Facebook executive was set to testify at a congressional hearing on Facebook and Instagram's impact on teen mental health.
4. Regular Instagram has been under fire for negatively impacting teen’s mental health
For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting internal studies into how Instagram affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a large percentage of them, most notably teenage girls. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one research study conducted by the company. “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said research study. Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts,13% of British users and 6% of American users traced this mentality to Instagram.“32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” If teens are already starting to feel the negative impact of Instagram on their mental health, why would any parent want to give their child access to a platform that could make them feel the same way?
5. This is how Instagram for Kids can impact your child
Like we’ve seen with Instagram and every other social media platform, these platforms are designed to keep users engaged for as long as possible to capture their data, interactions, and generate tons of revenue through ad placement. Social media platforms are not designed to prioritize and benefit the user's well-being. Instead, they can create a space that is intensifying the experience of anxiety and mental health challenges to such a point that could be creating more and more significant problems for kids as they develop. This can come just from their interactions with their peers and that constant need of being online and create content. If children started becoming attached to Instagram for Kids, they may start to feel the need to constantly post and maintain a social standing like their peers. The evidence is pretty strong that there's a clear association between higher usage of social media and higher rates of addiction and mental health problems.
If we look at all of the information and research available about Facebook and Instagram, it is pretty transparent that they are not doing this to protect children. Instead, their main focus is to continue driving their metrics and increase their user base by purposely targeting children. Who’s to say that the same problems we are seeing with teens and mental health on Instagram won’t start appearing in children on Instagram for Kids next? Facebook should not be focused on trying to attract younger and younger users, instead they should be focused on adding stricter protocol to prevent children from signing up to Instagram in the first place.