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Hill Dems: Instagram for Kids May do More Harm Than Good

Facebook sign at HQ
(Image credit: Facebook)

Some Hill Dems led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are pressing Facebook on more info in its exploration of a version of Instagram for children and warning if they don't like the answers they get, the company should stop exploring. 

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, they "demanded" some commitments, or know the reason why, and expressed their concerns about Facebook's past failure to protect kids on their Messenger Kids ap. "[R]esearch shows that apps such as Instagram may be detrimental to young people’s wellbeing and mental health," they wrote. "If Facebook’s objective is to decrease the number of users under the age of 13 on its current Instagram platform, it should invest in efforts to do that directly. The alternative approach that Facebook appears poised to take—specifically, pushing kids to sign up for a new platform that may itself pose threats to young users’ privacy and wellbeing—involves serious challenges and may do more harm than good." 

In 2019, Markey, joined by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) hammered the company over its apparent failure to child-proof that app. Blumenthal is on the current letter as well, which is dated April 5.

At that time, a Facebook source speaking on background said it was a technical error affecting group chats, rather than a design flaw in the app itself, and that it had been detected and resolved.

Markey and Blumenthal, joined by Reps. Lori Trahan (Mass.) and Kathy Castor (Fla.), wanted answers to the following by April 26: 

1. "Will you commit that any platforms that Facebook launches for children, including a version of Instagram that is marketed for children, will never sell or share any user data with third parties for commercial purposes? If not, why not?

2. "Will you commit that any platforms that Facebook launches for children, including a version of Instagram that is marketed for children, will always be completely free of targeted advertising? If not, why" not?

3. Will you commit that any platforms that Facebook launches for children, including a version of Instagram that is marketed for children, will always be completely free of “influencer marketing” and other forms of commercial content that children may be incapable of identifying as advertisements? If not, why not?

4. "Will you commit that any platforms that Facebook launches for children, including a version of Instagram that is marketed for children, will not employ “push alert” techniques or similar design features that encourage users to spend time on the app? If not, why not?

5. "Will you commit that any platforms that Facebook launches for children, including a version of Instagram that is marketed for children, will not employ features such as “like” buttons, follower counts, or other tools that allow children to quantify popularity? If not, why not?

6. "Will you commit that any platforms that Facebook launches for children, including a version of Instagram that is marketed for children, will not include beauty filters or similar design features that can lead to an unhealthy body image? 

7. "Will you commit that any platform that Facebook launches for children, including a version of Instagram that is marketed for children, will not include ephemeral features such as stories and “vanish mode” which are difficult to monitor for bullying or child exploitation?"

“Should Facebook fail to provide adequate responses to the questions above or otherwise fail to demonstrate that a future version of Instagram for children would meet the highest standards of user protection," they warned in closing, "we would advise you to abandon your plans to launch this new platform.”