In March 2020, the Guardian reported that Facebook was exploring a parent-controlled experience of Instagram for children under 13 years. Following the announcement, a campaign for a commercial-free childhood addressed a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Chief Executive Officer, in April, to cancel the plan to launch the Instagram for children platform.
In the dual-party letter signed by the attorneys general representing 44 US states and territories, they are persuading Facebook to terminate the plan to open Instagram for children since the Instagram app was not designed for children.
The officials said that social media use could be harmful to the health and well-being of children who are not armed to navigate the challenges of using a social media account. They also reported that Facebook has failed to protect the welfare of children across its platforms.
A Facebook spokesman said that the tech giant just started exploring the version of Instagram for kids, and it’s promising not to show ads in any Instagram experience developed for them.
According to the letter, the company’s stance on Facebook’s Messenger Kids app didn’t fill them with confidence. In the bipartisan letter, as reported by TechCrunch, the AG said that a 2019 media report revealed that the app designed for children between the ages of 6 and 12 contained a notable design error that permitted children to avoid restrictions on online interactions and join group chats with strangers not approved by their parents.
In theory, building kid-safe platforms is a form of inclusiveness. For example, global streaming service, Netflix, updated its Kids’ profile in April, making it more graphic. When kids log in to their account, their favourite titles and characters welcome them at the top right corner of the screen.
While this isn't a new development, one wonders why Facebook is being persuaded to cancel the kids’ app.
Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General, tweeted, “Facebook has repeatedly failed to protect the health and wellbeing of children on its platforms. ‘Instagram for kids’ is a shameful attempt to exploit and profit off vulnerable people. I’m leading a letter to Mark Zuckerberg with 44 AGs to demand they abandon this plan.”
A Comparitech report reveals that one-fifth of all bullying occurs through social media. With cyberbullying prevalent across all social media platforms, it stands to reason that having kids on Instagram would expose them to such risks.
On average, 7 in 10 young people experience cyberbullying before turning 18, and 56% of online harassment reportedly happens on Facebook. Also, 61% of teenagers who reported being bullied said it was because of their appearance. Possibly, rejecting Instagram for kids is to reduce incidences of cyberbullying among children as it's more of picture-sharing.
The AG pointed out that Facebook is not responding to a need but creating a need. Therefore, it’s not certain if Facebook or other tech giants would be permitted to develop another app for kids.
Recall that in 2019, 46 attorneys general commenced their antitrust investigation into Facebook after it agreed to pay $5 billion to settle a government probe over a series of privacy crimes. The following year, some investigators were expected to file antitrust charges against the tech giant. This seems like a recurrence since the acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
Perchance, these outstanding cases could be responsible for the scrutiny and pressure to scratch Instagram for kids.