Pushback from child advocates, parents and lawmakers has driven Facebook to pause the its development of Instagram Kids, which had been touted as requiring parental permission to join. It was supposed to provide ad-free, age appropriate content.
US lawmakers and advocacy groups have urged the social media giant to drop its launch plans, citing safety concerns. Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, an advocacy group focused on kids, told Reuters that they won’t stop pressuring Facebook until they permanently pull the plug.
Lawmakers, according to CBS News, have also weighed in to express their concerns. Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts and Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida recently called on Facebook to forego Instagram Kids. In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the lawmakers said “as the internet and social media specifically becomes increasingly engrained in children and teens’ lives, we are deeply concerned that your company continues to fail in its obligation to protect young users and has yet to commit to halt its plans to launch new platforms targeting children and teens.”
Adam Mosseri, Instagram head, said the company remains committed to the product but will suspend the project as it seeks to address their concerns. “We’ll use this time to work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the value and need for this product,” Mosseri said. “I have three children and their safety is the most important thing in my life. I hear the concerns with this project, and we are announcing these steps today so we can get it right.”
However, some child advocacy groups have questioned if Facebook’s move to suspend Instagram Kids is a sincere effort to reckon with criticism of the platform. Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense, a NGO that advises parents and schools on technology, in a statement said Facebook will still go ahead and build the platform. “Their announcement that they are pausing plans so that they can instead try to convince parents and anyone who will listen that there is a need for social media for kids under 13 is further proof that they don’t care about the harmful impacts social media has on the development of kids.”
In a lengthy blog post, Instagram said critics of Instagram Kids will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. It argued that it wasn’t the case. “The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today. We are not the only company to think so. Our peers recognized these issues and built experiences for kids. YouTube and TikTok have versions of their app for those under 13,” the post said. “Our intention is not for this version to be the same as Instagram today, it was never meant for younger kids but for tweens aged 10-12. It will require parental permission to join, it won’t have ads, and it will have age-appropriate content and features. Parents can supervise the time their children spend on the app and oversee who can message them, who can follow them and who they can follow.”
The blog post highlighted that Instagram conducts research to make the platform better. “That means our insight often shed light on problems, but they inspire new ideas and changes to Instagram. Examples include our industry leading anti-bullying work such as Restrict, Hidden Words and Limits, and our recent changes to make Instagram accounts private by default for those under 16.”