Apart from drawing opposition from more than 40 attorneys general across the nation, Facebook’s plan to develop a version of Instagram for children younger than 13 is also eliciting concern from child advocates.
Among them, Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks issued a recent warning of the potential consequences the platform could pose, including fertile ground for online bullying and possible sexual grooming by predators.
“Research demonstrates that social media can be harmful to the physical, emotional and mental well-being of children. There are rapidly worsening concerns about cyberbullying on Instagram. Child and sex predators use the platform to target children, and children are too young to navigate the complexities of what they encounter online – including inappropriate content and relationships with strangers,” Brooks said.
In March, Buzzfeed News reported that an internal communique it had obtained – made by Instagram Vice President of Product Vishal Shah – called an Instagram for kids a “priority.”
However, after strong pushback from 44 attorneys general across the country, Facebook softened its stance.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has also urged Facebook to halt its development efforts for the platform.
“Use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account. Further, Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms,” the attorneys general wrote in a joint letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on May 10.
Another of Facebook’s platforms aimed at a younger audience, Messenger Kids, was set up for a similar purpose and was revealed to allow in strangers via group chats, though Facebook said it has now fixed that issue.
For its part, Facebook has said it’s better to have a platform for children to stop them from lying to get onto websites where there is no parental supervision.
In a statement to CNBC, a Facebook spokesperson said the company had “just started exploring a version of Instagram for kids” and is committed to not show ads “in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13.”
“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health and privacy advocates to inform it. We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general,” the spokesperson said, according to CNBC.
The latest Kentucky Incentives for Prevention survey reveals some troubling findings, according to Kentucky Youth Advocates, with 13% of sixth graders experiencing bullying online. Further, the survey found that more than 9,000 Kentucky students had attempted suicide, making youth mental health as important as ever.
“The reality is that for children and youth across the commonwealth and the nation, learning, finding entertainment and socially interacting online has become the norm, especially through the course of the pandemic,” Brooks said. “The continued leadership of Gov. Andy Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron on cyber safety for our children are needed to hold Facebook accountable as conversations on this new social media platform progress.”
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.