Instagram version for kids? Parents and lawmakers worry about mental health, privacy, and predators

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Bennett Purser

“When you're a preteen, you really care a lot about what your peers … think. And Instagram, with that sort of photo-heavy focus and likes-heavy focus, might increase the stress of popularity issues for kids in that age,” says Naomi Nix, social media company reporter for Bloomberg. Photo by Shutterstock.

This week, 44 state attorneys general urged Facebook to scrap its plan to develop Instagram Youth. The new version of the popular photo-sharing app is specifically for kids ages 13 and younger. Facebook, which owns Instagram, argues that the separate platform could be safer for children who are already using the photo app. Critics say Instagram Youth could hurt children’s mental health, and be a place for cyber bullies and predators. 

The kids’ version would have many features already available for adults, meaning kids could follow accounts, post their own images, and use filters. All of that activity would be visible to parents, who could control their children’s app access. That’s according to Naomi Nix, social media reporter for Bloomberg.

She explains Facebook’s pitch for this: “They said, ‘Look, inevitably kids are really hungry for this.’ What they found, internally looking at their research, is that kids between 8 and 12 very happily use Facebook Messenger to have video calls with their cousins or their aunt, or to chat with their parents, and to look silly while doing it. But once they get to that sort of preteen age — 9, 10, 11, 12 — they start to want what the big kids want, which is Instagram.”

The attorneys general have two concerns. First, Nix says they point to research saying social media use can increase loneliness, contribute to depression and even suicide attempts. 

“In particular, because this is kind of a vulnerable age, right? Like when you're a preteen, you really care a lot about what your peers … think. And Instagram, with that sort of photo-heavy focus and likes-heavy focus, might increase the stress of popularity issues for kids in that age.”

Second, she says the lawmakers are worried about how much Facebook would adequately protect kids’ data, particularly with its history of privacy scandals. 

While Facebook has pledged to not show ads on Instagram Youth, Nix wonders what they’ll do with info they collect on the specific pages kids are looking at.

She recalls that when Facebook launched its Messenger version for kids, the young users were allowed to chat with adults who their parents didn’t approve. The Federal Trade Commission found nothing significant upon an investigation, but it’s an example of whether Facebook would do everything in their power to secure their platform for kids. 

She also says Instagram Youth is a chance for Facebook to shape kids’ social media habits, and the company hopes kids will want to use its other platforms, allowing them to compete with Snapchat and TikTok. 

The public can expect Congress to continue scrutinizing Facebook, she points out. “We might expect more bills to propose updates to laws that are currently on the books that are aimed at protecting children online, and perhaps more proposals to pare back some of the legal protections that Facebook and other tech companies enjoy.”

Credits

Guest:

  • Naomi Nix - social media company reporter for Bloomberg