In March of 2021, it was revealed that Facebook had plans to make a version of Instagram for children under 13. Currently, Instagram does not allow children under 13 to use the platform, but many simply lie about their age in order to gain access to the platform. Facebook says that this new site will provide a safe place for kids to interact away from content on Instagram that may be inappropriate for young children. The site will include parental supervision and not display ads.
However, this Instagram for kids app has been highly criticized by both lawmakers and child safety experts. In fact, over 40 US attorney generals have asked Facebook to halt the creation of this app. “The alarming rates of cyberbullying among children also present a dire problem that a new Instagram platform could very well exacerbate,” the National Association of Attorney Generals said in a letter to Facebook. The letter also expresses concerns that this app could exacerbate body image issues that young children may already have.
Many child welfare organizations have also been outspoken about this topic. Experts on child safety say that most of the time, children under 13 are not mature enough to handle the responsibilities that come with a social media account. In elementary and middle school, kids are developing and creating their own self-image. Apps such as Instagram, which is photo based, can cause insecurities. Many experts worry that this app could cause children to compare themselves to others in unhealthy ways, and the issue of cyberbullying could also increase.
Kids may also not want to use a version of Instagram designed for children once they’ve experienced the real thing. An eleven-year-old may feel more inclined to use an app that’s designed for teens, rather than one that’s designed for an eight-year-old. This could be dangerous for numerous cybertech-related reasons.
“In the elementary and middle school years, children experience incredible growth in their social competencies, abstract thinking, and sense of self. Finding outlets for self-expression and connection with their peers become especially important. We are concerned that a proposed Instagram for kids would exploit these rapid developmental changes,” said a consortium of organizations that included Berkeley Media Studies Group, and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in a letter addressed to Facebook.
Facebook has hired the creator of YouTube kids to launch this app. Much like this new site, YouTube kids promised that kids will not be shown ads, but critics claim there have been examples of product placement on YouTube kids. YouTube kids has also been criticized for its autoplay feature, which keeps videos playing after the original one has ended.
Facebook has not had a very good track record concerning child safety. In 2017, they created a version of their Messenger app for kids, but that app contained a flaw that allowed children to enter group chats with strangers that their parents hadn’t approved. Despite this, Messenger Kids is still available today, and its website boasts that “Parents Are in Control… Kids Have All the Fun.”
However, Facebook is a corporation, and corporations will almost always prioritize people over profit. They need to protect their bottom line and make money, so they don’t always have the best interests of customers at heart. Facebook has been involved in many controversies and scandals, including the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data from millions of Facebook users without their consent. Out of all of the social media companies that we interact with on a daily basis, Facebook is known for its mishandling of data and slow action when problems arise. Is this really the site we want controlling the accounts and data of young children?