The head of Facebook-owned Instagram, Adam Mosseri, announced through a blog post on Monday that they have decided to pause work on “Instagram Kids”—the under-13 version of the app in the works. The announcement comes amidst a sea of criticism that broke out after The Wall Street Journal published a series of reports on the sleuth’s internal research presenting troublesome findings.
For instance, according to one of the WSJ reports, Facebook has known for years that Instagram worsens body image issues in teenagers, especially girls (read Unboxed’s report on the same here). Another story from the WSJ’s Facebook Files notes how it has ignored the company’s own finding that users often feel “addicted” to Instagram.
The blog post by Mosseri notes that the WSJ’s coverage “raised a lot of questions for people,” after which Instagram introduced anti-bullying and “exploring” features that might encourage users to take a break from the app, he added. In a series of tweets surrounding the issue, Mosseri said the word on the project “leaked way before we knew what it would be.” Therefore, Facebook didn’t have many answers at that stage, he added; “It’s clear we need to take more time on this.”
He strongly condemned the media as well as critics, saying that when it comes to the purpose of the app, they have got it all wrong. “It was never meant for younger kids, but for tweens (aged 10-12),” according to one of the Tweets. However, even as Facebook continues to rebut, it has not yet made its research accessible to the public.
Regarding the halt in the app’s work, Mosseri said that critics will see it “as a concession that the project is a bad idea.” He continued to oppose this, saying, “I have to believe parents would prefer the option for their children to use an age-appropriate version of Instagram—that gives them oversight —than the alternative. But I’m not here to downplay their concerns, we have to get this right.”
So what are experts saying?
Social media experts such as Aimee Morrison, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, told CBC News in an interview that “The whole purpose is to display yourself for the approval of others.” Young people are even more compelled than others to consume and emulate what they see on social media, she added.
On 10 May this year, 44 attorneys general in the United States had written a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to halt Instagram Kids. The letter points to the fact that research suggests children are “simply too young to navigate the complexities of what they encounter online, including inappropriate content and online relationships where other users, including predators, can cloak their identities using the anonymity of the internet.”
Facebook’s response to such criticisms is that young people are already active online and are using 13+ apps by misrepresenting their age. So, it is better that their experience is supervised by parents, who will apparently be able to monitor who is following their kids and vice versa, among other similar features. The company has also clarified that there would be no advertisements on the new app. However, critics are still pushing back.