A coalition of dozens of groups and academics from around the world are calling on Facebook to scrap plans to launch a version of Instagram for children. Facebook is countering that it continues to explore the option, which it said will be age appropriate and managed by parents.
The coalition signaled that stance in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The groups, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, cited a BuzzFeed report that Facebook plans to build a version of the social media site that "allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.”
While they said they agree the current version of the site is not safe for the millions of kids who have lied about their age to create accounts, they argued launching a version for kids is not the right remedy, and would instead put users at "great risk" by "exploiting their fears of missing ou[t] or the desire for peer approval," leading them to constantly check their devices and share photos. "A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to adolescents," they write, including contributing to obesity, lower psychological wellbeing, decreased happiness, and decreased quality of sleep. "Instagram’s focus on photo sharing and appearance makes the platform particularly unsuitable for children who are in the midst of crucial stages of developing their sense of self," they said.
Besides, they argued, creating a new site for kids does not eliminate the problem of underagers on the current site. For example, they argued, "children between the ages of 10 and 12 who have existing Instagram accounts are unlikely to migrate to a “babyish” version of the platform after they have experienced the real thing."
Finally, they argued that Facebook has a track record of exploiting young people that makes it particularly unsuitable to be "the custodian of a photo sharing and social messaging site for children."
Among the other groups signing on to the letter are the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America, the Parents Television and Media Center, Child Online Africa, and Global Action Plan UK.
"We’ve just started exploring a version of Instagram for younger teens," said a Facebook spokesperson. "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. In addition, we will not show ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13.”
They also pointed out that "the reality is that kids are online. They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun, and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate. We also want to find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps."
Facebook is working on new age verification methods to get the under-13s off the site while "exploring an Instagram experience for kids that is age-appropriate and managed by parents."
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