Child safety advocates urge Facebook to cancel launch of Instagram for kids under 13

The Instagram and Facebook logos are displayed at the 2018 CeBIT technology trade fair on June 12, 2018, in Hanover, Germany. | Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Child safety advocates and campaigners against sexual exploitation are calling on Facebook to scrap its plans to launch an Instagram platform for children younger than 13. 

A cohort of advocates under the banner of the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood are urging Facebook to cancel its plans to launch a version of Instagram designed for pre-teens, highlighting the social ills and perils of digital technology. The campaigners include advocacy groups from around the world and concerned individuals, including the creators of the 2020 documentary film that scrutinizes social media, "The Social Dilemma." 

“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. We are concerned that a proposed Instagram for kids would exploit these rapid developmental changes,” the April 15 letter from CCFC advocates to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reads.

“Excessive screen media use and social media use is linked to a number of risks for children and adolescents, including obesity, lower psychological wellbeing, decreased happiness, decreased quality of sleep, increased risk of depression, and increases in suicide-related outcomes such as suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts. Fifty-nine percent of U.S. teens have reported being bullied on social media, an experience which has been linked to increased risky behaviors such as smoking and increased risk of suicidal ideation,” the letter, which contained footnotes documenting the studies undergirding its claims, continued.

The child safety advocates also noted that the social media platforms are saturated with child sexual abuse materials and exploitation of minors. Last year alone, according to Business Insider, Facebook reported more the 20 million child abuse images. In 2019, The Atlantic  reported that Instagram was criticized for failing to respond to reports of exploitation in a timely fashion.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which is among the CCFC advocates, is voicing similar concerns regarding Facebook’s plans, highlighting the various ways in which children have been sexually exploited on the 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 NCOSE, in an emailed statement to The Christian Post. "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,” she added.

Adding legal voices to the effort, more than 40 Attorneys General from U.S. states and territories are petitioning Zuckerberg to abandon the project. 

“It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account. In short, an Instagram platform for young children is harmful for myriad reasons,” a May 10 letter signed by the dozens of state officeholders from the National Association of Attorneys General declares.

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