Calls for Facebook to halt development of the company’s Instagram app targeted at kids under 13 are growing. In a recent letter, forty-four state attorneys general urged Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to drop the company’s plan to develop a version of Instagram targeted at children under the age of 13. Currently, children under 13 are restricted from using Instagram by the 1998 law called the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (“COPPA”). The state attorneys general argue that the new app could harm the mental health of younger children because they don’t know how to properly navigate social media accounts. In addition, they argue, the new app could compromise the privacy of the children who use it.
The state attorneys general are not alone in expressing concern about the safety and privacy issues implicated by children using social media platforms. Child welfare and privacy advocates have also spoken out and said that the new Instagram app could contribute to depression, loneliness, and anxiety in young users. In addition, lawmakers on the Hill have joined in the criticism and echoed the calls for Facebook to halt its plan for the new app.
Facebook has previously responded to the criticism explaining, “[w]e agree that any experience we develop must prioritize [the] safety and privacy [of the children], and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it.” According to Facebook, its goal is to give preteens access to an app with most of the same features now offered on Instagram, but with parental control and visibility built in. Facebook points out that many preteens already have Instagram accounts despite COPPA, because they lie about their age when they sign up, and the new app would give parents greater control and visibility than what they have now when kids circumvent the age restrictions.
The Facebook app is still in the early stages of development, so questions about what protections will be included and how it will work are not resolved. We will continue to monitor the issues raised by the development of the targeted Instagram app, as well as other similar social media platforms designed for and directed at younger children.