- 40 attorneys general are urging Facebook to scrap plans to build an Instagram app for kids under 13.
- In a letter, the AGs cited Facebook’s poor track record of protecting kids online.
- They also cited research showing how social media harms kids’ physical, emotional, and mental health.
A group of 40 state attorneys general wrote a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging Facebook to abandon its plans for an Instagram app for kids under the age of 13, accusing Facebook of having “historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.”
The letter, viewed by Insider, emphasized the role that social media has on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children, “who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account.” That includes a lack of understanding around privacy and deciding what is appropriate to post in such a permanent nature.
Zuckerberg downplayed social media’s harm to children during a March hearing before Congress, though he acknowledged that he was “aware of the issues” surrounding kids’ health online.
“There is clearly a large number of people under the age of 13 who would want to use a service like Instagram,” Zuckerberg said, according to Mashable.
But the letter from the attorneys general claims that “strong data and research” shows a “link between young people’s use of social media and an increase in mental distress, self-injurious behavior, and suicidality.”
“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,” the attorneys general said in the letter. “In short, an Instagram platform for young children is harmful for myriad reasons.”
“As every parent knows, kids are already online,” A Facebook spokesperson told Insider. “We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing.”
The company also said it’s working with experts in child safety and privacy and is committed to “not showing ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13.”
Instagram currently prohibits children under 13 from using it. It was first reported in March that Facebook was building on an Instagram app for kids 13 and under, a project led by the former head of YouTube Kids.
Facebook has faced scrutiny in the past over what critics say is its failure to police bullying, child sex abuse, and child exploitation online. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said Facebook and Facebook-owned apps reported 20.3 million incidents of potential child abuse in 2020.
And in 2019, a privacy vulnerability allowed thousands of children using the company’s Messenger Kids platform to join chats with strangers.
Facebook’s competitors have also created kid-centric versions of their platforms and landed in hot water over what was seen as a failure to protect children online. YouTube Kids stood up in 2015 for kids under 13 and was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in 2019 over its handling of children’s videos.