social media

Group calls on Facebook to ditch plans for Instagram for children

By Danielle Jarvis

A group focused on ending sexual exploitation has called on Facebook to reconsider its plains to launch an under-age version of Instagram.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), the leading national non-partisan organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health harms of pornography, has joined with 44 State Attorneys General in urging Facebook to abandon plans for an Instagram for kids.

They expressed concerns about children’s physical and mental health safety online and uncertainty about Facebook’s ability to “protect the safety and privacy of children on its platform.”

“Creating an Instagram app for kids is not only a bad idea, but irresponsible given Facebook’s abysmal track record protecting children on its various platforms,” said Lina Nealon, director of corporate and strategic initiatives for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. “Rather than building a new platform to hook and monetize young children at even younger ages, Instagram should prioritize stemming the rampant sexual abuse and exploitation of minors currently on Instagram.

“While the Instagram has recently instituted basic safety standards for its users for which NCOSE and allies have long advocated, Facebook still has a long way to go in making its products safe for kids and it’s unlikely this newest product for children would be completely safe or risk-free. 

“Social media platforms are not adequately protecting children from potential predators or harmful content. Furthermore, a growing body of research gives evidence to the extensive detrimental effects to children’s mental, physical, and socio-emotional health when using social media. Instead of creating more avenues for exploitation and harm, Big Tech should invest in making their existing products safer.

“We join a large group of child advocates who are calling on Facebook to cancel its plans to introduce Instagram for children because doing so would create unnecessary risks to children. Facebook must put children’s health and safety before their bottom line.”

Just this week, the U.S. Attorneys General also called on Facebook to stop development of Instagram for children in a letter sent to Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Zuckerberg. NCOSE is urging members of the public to sign a petition to Facebook.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost have weighed in on the backlash Facebook is receiving.

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, who is running a petition to stop Facebook moving forward with its plans, stated: “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. An Instagram for kids would exploit these rapid developmental changes. 

“A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to adolescents. 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 and wellbeing. 

“Millions of children between the ages of 10 and 12 have already lied about their age to create Instagram accounts and are highly unlikely to migrate to a “babyish” version of the platform. The true audience for a kids’ version of Instagram will be much younger children who do not currently have accounts on the platform.

“Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships, and their inner sense of strengths and challenges during this crucial window of development.

“Moreover, young children are highly persuadable by algorithmic prediction of what they might click on next, and we are very concerned about how automated decision making would determine what children see and experience on a kids’ Instagram platform.”

According to the BBC, in April, Instagram was forced to apologize after a “mistake” meant diet content was promoted to users with eating disorders.

And the father of UK teenager Molly Russell, who took her own life in 2017, said that the platform was partly responsible, because she had viewed material about depression and suicide on it, even though such content is banned.