Published on October 12, 2021, at 8:18 p.m.
by Lady Reynolds.
In March of 2021, Buzzfeed News unveiled Facebook’s newest project — Instagram Kids. This alternative version of the popular photo-sharing app was specifically designed for children under the age of 13. While the company displayed initial excitement about the new project, it immediately raised questions and concerns among parents and policymakers — inciting a PR crisis.
In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion. Since then, Instagram has become one of the most popular social media platforms. However, as online platforms continue to grow in popularity, so has a concern regarding the impact social media has on children and teens.
The original intentions of the Instagram Kids project seemed fairly simple. Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, explained that this version of the platform would be designed with parents in mind. A platform with no ads and a plethora of parental controls was the central focus. In addition to its age-appropriate content, parents could shape the experience for their kids by deciding how much time they could spend on the app, whom they could follow and whom they could message.
A Business Insider article stated that nearly 40% of children under the age of 13 are using Instagram. With a significant number of kids on the app, the company wanted to create a service that catered to those between the ages of 10 and 12, rather than relying strictly on the app’s ability to verify the age of kids who are too young to have an ID.
In response to Facebook’s development of the project, recent backlash shed light on its potential mental health risks. A recent Wall Street Journal article leaked Facebook’s own research documents — revealing that the company “knows its platforms harm the mental health of teens.”
As a result, three members of the United States Congress sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, addressing their concerns related to the internal research documents. They requested that Zuckerberg “cease all efforts to launch any new platforms for children or teens.”
In an MSNBC segment, one critic revealed Facebook’s negligence of children’s mental health — stating that the project was simply a desire to get younger generations of users to download Facebook’s apps, like Instagram Kids, before competitors’ apps such as TikTok and Snapchat. Other critics had concerns that Instagram Kids would “hook children on the app at a younger age rather than protecting them from problems with the service, including child predatory grooming, bullying and body shaming.”
In response to Congress’ letter, Mosseri, who has three children of his own, explained the premise of Instagram Kids and the reason for pausing its development in a short video on his Instagram page. He noted that Instagram needs to take more time to work with parents, experts and policymakers in order to effectively “demonstrate the value and need for this product.” In Mosseri’s Instagram announcement, he referenced his blog post that addressed the project’s halt in further detail.
Facebook provided Congress and the public with further research decks that annotated the original report’s concerns. Instagram also implemented additional parental controls on its main app as another response to The Wall Street Journal and U.S. Congress debacle.
Some argued that “Facebook should cancel Instagram Kids, not put it on ‘pause.’” With nearly 1.3 billion users on the app, Instagram risked losing their trust. One user explained that it was rare to find common ground with the head of Instagram, while others wondered if he knew about the mental health reports that were exploited in The Wall Street Journal. Mosseri later responded, “I think people should be aware of what research says, whether it’s positive or negative about us. No one’s trying to hide anything here.”
If the company keeps the Instagram Kids project on pause rather than canceling it, all eyes will be on Facebook as it attempts to dodge another PR crisis in the future and defend its online services.