Social on the hunt for children: Instagram aims at under 13. What do you think?

Gianluca Riccio

Technology

An association that gathers parents and experts writes to Mark Zuckerberg: "put this project aside: Instagram for children is too risky"

Many public health experts gathered in a US non-profit association, the CCFC, they wrote a letter today to Mark Zuckerberg. Why? To urge Facebook to abandon its plans for a new version of Instagram aimed at children under 13. A platform that in their opinion "would put young users at great risk". I agree with them.

The platform, which Facebook intends not to include advertising, is designed for children under the minimum age for Instagram, which is 13. The Menlo Park company also says it is looking for new methods, including the use ofartificial intelligence, to confirm that users are all over that age threshold.

Why exactly 13 years?

This age restriction is a product of a 1998 American law called Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). This law sets stricter requirements and potential financial liabilities for online platforms that collect personal information about users under 13 without parental consent. Experts fear that social media poses additional threats to even young children.

instagram for kids

“Instagram's focus on photo sharing and appearance makes the platform particularly unsuitable for children who are at crucial stages of developing their sense of self,” representatives of this organization wrote to Facebook. “Children and adolescents (particularly girls) associate overly sexualized and edited photos of themselves with greater attention and popularity among their peers.”

The public health experts and child protection groups who signed the letter also argue that social media created for children could violate young people's privacy and create a host of potential harms, including increasing risk of depression.

Instagram for children in an already risky framework

“During the pandemic, I have heard countless stories from parents of elementary-aged children about dramatic and problematic interactions occurring on social media. Situations that the children were not ready for,” he says Jenny Radesky, professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan. “An Instagram for kids is the last thing they need.”

The letter comes amid efforts by tech giants to create child-focused apps and tools. The risk is that these apps create (early) addiction and are harmful to the mental health and self-esteem of young people. 

Facebook: "it's a way to keep them away from the main platform"

instagram for kids

The initiatives to create platforms "for kids" are also an effort to limit the phenomenon where children under 13 still enter social media with false credentials. It is one of the main themes of Facebook's defense of its choices. This is why at the Zuckerberg house they throw water on the fire. “The reality is that kids are already online,” says the Facebook spokeswoman Stephanie Otway. “They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate.”

A catalog for pedophiles

The prospect of malicious adults interacting with children on Instagram is particularly worrying. Last month, Instagram added new features to limit direct messages between teens and adults who don't follow them. Nothing transcendental. The company has relaunched on its blog, saying it is studying how to make it more difficult for adults with “potentially suspicious behavior” to interact with young people.

I only see problems. And they wouldn't be the first, by the way. BigTech companies have tried in the past to reach an audience of children, with catastrophic results. In 2017 the same Facebook He launched a version of Messenger for kids. Only two years later the company faced and resolved it a bug which allowed children to group chat with strangers who were not approved by parents. Today, Facebook claims to have more than 7 million monthly active children on Messenger Kids.

YouTube is also experiencing problems with its app for children, YouTube Kids, launched in 2015. There are several inappropriate videos that from time to time manage to "break through" the controls. The accusations against the platform are that of showing children poor content, full of products (placed in videos, not in the direct form of advertising) and with poor moderation.

I don't know when a children's version of Instagram will launch, but it's clear that parents, experts and lawmakers don't think well of it. And I don't have it either. Should he ever leave, the problems seen so far could appear to be a joke.

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