David Monahan, CCFC, [email protected]
Health Advocates Ask Facebook to Scrap Planned Instagram for Kids
Experts cite harm to teens from excessive time on devices and social media, serious risks to even younger children
BOSTON – Thursday, April 15, 2021 – Today an international coalition of 100 public health advocates from around the world called on Facebook to scrap its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children. In a letter written and organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the coalition detailed the ways children’s healthy development and privacy will be undermined if they are ushered into the image-obsessed world of Instagram. Signatories include the Center for Humane Technology, Common Sense, 5Rights Foundation, Center for Digital Democracy, ParentsTogether Action, Global Action Plan UK, and the creators of The Social Dilemma, and experts Jean Twenge, Tristan Harris, Sherry Turkle, Jenny Radesky, Hilarie Cash, and Nancy Carlsson-Paige.
CCFC also launched a petition calling on Facebook to refrain from targeting children with an Instagram for kids.
The advocates and experts say research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is linked to a number of risks for children and adolescents, including obesity, lower psychological wellbeing, increased risk of depression, and increases in suicide-related outcomes. They say Instagram, in particular, exploits young people’s fear of missing out and desire for peer approval. “The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing,” the advocates said in their letter. Younger children, like those targeted in Facebook’s plans for a new Instagram, are even less prepared to handle the challenges posed by such a platform, the advocates and experts say.
Jenny Radesky, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School, said “During the pandemic, I have heard countless stories from parents of elementary-aged children about high-drama and problematic interactions happening over social media that kids weren’t developmentally ready for. An Instagram for kids is the last thing they need. Facebook and Instagram need to have some humility about the fact that they do not fully understand the nuances of child development and the needs of young minds.”
Though its terms of service say Instagram is for ages 13 and up, millions of younger children have lied about their ages in order to open their own Instagram accounts. But, the advocates’ letter notes, those children are unlikely to abandon Instagram for a new site that seems “babyish.” The real target of Instagram for kids will be much younger children who do not currently have Instagram accounts.
“It is beyond cynical that Instagram is using its failure to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and its failure to protect kids as an excuse to target younger children,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “Instagram’s business model relies on extensive data collection, maximizing time on devices, promoting a culture of oversharing and idolizing influencers, as well as a relentless focus on (often altered) physical appearance – and it is certainly not appropriate for 7-year-olds.”
“Facebook has gone back to their old bag of tricks, coming up with another product designed to get kids hooked when they are at their most vulnerable,” said James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO, Common Sense. “While tweens online deserve safe and protected environments, Facebook and Instagram have zero credibility and have proven time and time again that their priority is profiting off their manipulative and addictive tactics to keep users scrolling. What Mark Zuckerberg should do instead of targeting young customers is take the billions of dollars Facebook reaps every year from amplifying harmful content and instead invest in making a healthy and privacy protective product for adults.”
“Facebook claims that creating an ‘Instagram for kids’ will help keep them safe on the platform,” said Kathryn Montgomery, Professor Emerita at American University and Senior Strategist at the Center for Digital Democracy. “But the company’s real goal is to expand its lucrative and highly profitable Instagram franchise to an even younger demographic, introducing children to a powerful commercialized social media environment that poses serious threats to their privacy, health, and wellbeing. Given its failures to protect the public from disinformation, hate speech, and manipulation, parents cannot trust Facebook’s promises to protect young children.”
The advocates’ letter comes amid increased concerns in Washington about the effects of social media on young people’s development. Last week, Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal and Representatives Kathy Castor and Lori Trahan sent a letter to Facebook demanding answers about the planned Instagram for kids platform. And representatives from both sides of the aisle grilled Mark Zuckerberg about the platform during a March 25 Congressional hearing on the impacts of Big Tech.
Thirty-six organizations signed the letter, including: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood; 5Rights Foundation; Accountable Tech; Africa Digital Rights’ Hub; Artist Rights Alliance; Australian Council on Children and the Media; Berkeley Media Studies Group; Center for Digital Democracy; Center for Humane Technology; Centre for Health Science and Law (Canada); Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), South Africa; Child Online Africa; Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development; Common Sense; Consumer Action; Consumer Federation of America; Consumer Federation of California; Defending the Early Years; Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC); Every Child Protected Against Trafficking UK (ECPAT UK); Global Action Plan UK; Kidscape; Media Education Foundation; Network for Public Education; New Economics Foundation; Norwegian Cancer Society; Obligation, Inc.; Parent Coalition for Student Privacy; Parents Television and Media Council; ParentsTogether Action; Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere (P.E.A.C.E.); Public Citizen; Raffi Foundation for Child Honouring; Reset Australia; the creators of The Social Dilemma; and The Story of Stuff. Sixty-four experts in child development and the impacts of tech on kids also signed on.
# # #