Instagram wants to build a version of its app for kids under 13

This is a terrible idea

Facebook is reportedly working on a version of Instagram for kids under the age of 13.

Buzzfeed News reported that Instagram executives plan to build a version of the app for children, citing an internal post the publication obtained. Instagram’s vice president of product, Vishal Shah, explained in the post that building a for-kids version of Instagram was a top priority and that the company would focus on safety for teens and young kids.

You can read the full post below:

“I’m excited to announce that going forward, we have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list. We will be building a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things: (a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens and (b) building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.” 

Further, Buzzfeed reports that Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, would oversee the project, while vice president Pavni Diwanji would lead it. Previously, Diwanji worked at Google and oversaw the search giant’s kid-friendly products such as YouTube Kids.

Instagram already struggles to protect vulnerable users

Although Instagram intends to focus on safety, the company’s track record so far hasn’t been great. The news comes just days after the company said it needed to do more to protect young users. Earlier this week, a blog post detailed how Instagram hopes to improve the app for young users, such as by blocking adults from sending direct messages (DMs) to people under the age of 18 that don’t follow them.

While the change is a start, plenty of reporting details how Instagram has become a place for targeting teens with abuse, such as bullying, predation and other harassmentBuzzfeed cited a U.K. study from the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Childen, which found a 200 percent rise in recorded instances of using Instagram to target and abuse children.

It’s worth noting that Instagram currently doesn’t allow kids under the age of 13 from using the app, but actually preventing kids from using the platform is another matter.

In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Mosseri said that “more and more kids” want to use Instagram, but that verifying their age is a challenge since most people don’t get identification documents until they’re in their mid-to-late teens.

“We have to do a lot here, but part of the solution is to create a version of Instagram for young people or kids where parents have transparency or control. It’s one of the things we’re exploring,” Mosseri said. Additionally, Mosseri noted the company is still early in the development and doesn’t have a “detailed plan” yet.

Instagram for kids could help normalize monetization of social connections

However, none of this addresses the other core issues of an Instagram-for-kids app. First, that type of platform could prove harmful to children (increased harassment and abuse aside), and doubly so since Facebook has demonstrated with other for-kids products that it can’t be trusted to protect children.

Priya Kumar, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland, spoke with Buzzfeed News about the impacts of social media apps on kids. Kumar researches how social media affects families and said that an Instagram for kids would be another way for Facebook to build its userbase by hooking young people. It could also normalize the idea that social connections exist to be monetized.

“From a privacy perspective, you’re just legitimizing children’s interactions being monetized in the same way that all of the adults using these platforms are,” Kumar said.

She also explained that creating a platform for kids doesn’t mean kids will stay there. Looking at YouTube Kids as an example, Kumar said young users often migrated to the main YouTube platform — good for the company and bad for the kids.

Facebook failed to protect children with its Messenger Kids app

Facebook’s history in the children’s software field is messy. Back in 2017, it launched ‘Messenger Kids,’ a product targeting children aged six to 12 (it came to Canada in 2018). Following the launch, a group of over 95 advocates for children’s health asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to discontinue the product.

The group cited research that showed excessive use of digital devices and social media was harmful to kids’ development. In response, Facebook said it consulted experts when developing Messenger Kids, but a Wired report revealed the company had a financial relationship with most of the people who advised on the product.

Further, The Verge reported in 2019 that a Messenger Kids bug allowed “thousands of kids” to join groups with strangers. Facebook claimed the bug only affected a “small number of group chats,” but that the company even allowed the bug to ship in software designed to protect children is telling.

Source: Buzzfeed News