Amid a new storm of controversy following the release of the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files, Facebook announced today that it will cancel plans for its Instagram for Kids project for now, so it can meet with relevant regulators and advisory groups to ‘correct this ‘before you proceed.
Instagram boss Adam Mosseri posted a short video explaining the decision.
We pause Instagram Kids. This was a difficult decision. I still think building this experience is the right thing to do, but we want to take more time to talk to parents and professionals working on how to correct it. pic.twitter.com/gMbPjft0CW
– Adam Mosseri ???? (@mosseri) September 27, 2021
First reported earlier this year, the Instagram project for children, as described in detail by Mosseri, was not aimed at children as such, but at children between the ages of 10 and 13, who are increasingly finding alternative solutions to access Instagram anyway. Facebook’s opinion was that by building a special version for younger users, which could be managed and supervised by parents, it would be a better way forward than the current situation – in which the company in principle still adheres.
According to an official Facebook statement:
“We firmly believe that it is better for parents to be able to give their children access to a version of Instagram designed for them – where parents can monitor and control their experience – than to rely on the app’s ability to check the age of children too young to have an ID.”
Various experts and officials have expressed concern about the Instagram for Kids project at the time of the first reports, with the coalition child protection groups that wrote an open letter to Facebook President Mark Zuckerberg urging him to reconsider the idea.
Experts pointed out the psychological damage that Instagram can make worse, especially the “tireless focus of the platform on looks, self-presentation and branding” which they claim “poses a challenge to the privacy and well-being of adolescents”.
These same elements were highlighted once again in a recent Facebook Files report, which refers to leaked internal documents from Facebook that showed that the company is increasingly aware of the negative impacts that using Instagram can have on young users.
According to the report:
“32% of teenage girls said their Instagram felt worse because of their bodies […] Teenagers blame Instagram for increasing the rate of anxiety and depression. This reaction was effortless and consistent across all groups. ”
Facebook, meanwhile, has refuted these claims, noting that its research has actually shown that many young users found Instagram to be helpful in many ways.
“In fact, in 11 of the 12 areas on the slide that the Journal relies on – including serious areas like loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and eating problems – more teenage girls who said they were struggling with the problem also said Instagram had done those tough times. better than above. ”
The “slide” that Facebook refers to is this, which was one element of the internal report:
This chart and the title given to it by Facebook show that the company is well aware of such concerns, but Facebook has now sought to downplay those impacts, and the broader relevance of the study which it claims was only a small sample and not necessarily indicative.
Still, tough questions are being asked, and given that Facebook has been somewhat cornered, it seems best to pause its plans for Instagram for Kids, at least until it can better assess the response and formulate a more inclusive, thoughtful way forward for the project.
Is that a better outcome? Well, it’s hard to say.
There is certainly logic in what Mosseri and Facebook are saying, that it would be better to allow more supervision for parents of couples to make it easier to use Instagram without looking for a solution and full access to potentially controversial content in other ways. In principle, most child protection groups demand that the current restrictions on young users be fully respected (Instagram users must be over the age of 13), and that Instagram do more to prevent their access – but is it realistic to expect young people to at least not try to access the app or think Instagram and Facebook can stop it completely?
I guess that’s the key question – whether Facebook, with all its scale and resources, could prevent young people from accessing its apps, through improved verification and processes, that could theoretically reduce such concerns, as opposed to acknowledging that it works to make it happen and allow such damage to potentially multiply, in some form, in any way?
There seems to be an alternative verification process that could be carried out, at least in a certain capacity – but again, if Facebook goes that route, it could mean that all users need to provide identification to gain access to Facebook apps, which would keep children out in the majority, and would provide a new level of enforcement and monitoring.
But that opens up a whole other can of worms for the Social Network.
Want to post your personal document on Facebook and enable more direct tracking? Would you feel comfortable knowing that your real and internet identity could be so closely connected?
It would almost undoubtedly lead to new types of law enforcement for network activities, which could be good, but there are also additional concerns regarding citizen oversight, access to platforms for those without official credentials, government data, and so on.
These are broader questions about access to social media that emerge from the initial discussion, and when you expand the discussion to its logical conclusion, it suggests that Instagram for kids might be a better solution.
Yet at the same time, even Facebook’s own internal data highlights the potential damage the platform can do.
So what then? Shut down Instagram completely? Well, that won’t happen, and given that, the kids will keep trying to access the app. Instagram says it will focus on continuously improving its youth protection tools, including improved date requirements and messaging restrictions, as well as internal control tools that help people manage their experience on the platform.
But really, all of these measures can only go so far – the fact is that social networks in general can have significant mental health impacts, and Instagram’s visual focus makes it particularly dangerous in terms of comparison, body image and other key aspects it can have a big impact on teens.
What is the way forward? I don’t know, no one knows, but it’s an important element that should be the subject of more investigation and discussion, and we should, at least, be open to discussing the potential of Instagram for kids, if we’re going to be realistic about such an approach.
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