Led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a coalition argues the platform would be "harmful" to adolescents' developmental growth

By Joelle Goldstein
April 15, 2021 02:29 PM
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Two children using a mobile phone
Two children using a mobile device
| Credit: getty

A group of children advocates is taking a stand against Facebook and its plans to create an Instagram tailored to children under the age of 13.

On Thursday, nearly 100 experts and advocates called for Facebook to scrap its plans for the new platform, claiming that it would be "harmful" to adolescents' developmental growth.

The organizations and individuals, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, made their argument in a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

"Launching a version of Instagram for children under 13 is not the right remedy and would put young users at great risk," the note reads. "...It will likely increase the use of Instagram by young children who are particularly vulnerable to the platform's manipulative and exploitative features."

In a statement to PEOPLE, Facebook spokesperson Stephanie Otway says they have heard the group's complaints and are working to find a middle ground.

"We've just started exploring a version of Instagram for younger teens. 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," Otway says. "In addition, we will not show ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13."

"The reality is that kids are online. 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. We also want to find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps," Otway continues. "We're working on new age verification methods to keep under-13s off Instagram and we're exploring an Instagram experience for kids that is age-appropriate and managed by parents."

Samsung Galaxy Fold smartphone
Instagram on a phone
| Credit: Press Association via AP Images

In Thursday's letter, the group said that elementary and middle school-aged children "experience incredible growth in their social competencies, abstract thinking, and sense of self," and that having this new Instagram would "exploit these rapid developmental changes."

They argued that the social media app would damage children's mental and physical health, as well as increase bullying and the chance of interaction with sexual predators.

"Instagram, in particular, exploits young people's fear of missing out and desire for peer approval to encourage children and teens to constantly check their devices and share photos with their followers," the letter reads, citing research. "The platform's relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents' privacy and wellbeing."

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The group's plea comes close to a month after Facebook announced it would be adding more safety features for teens on the main app. That same week, the company revealed a new child-tailored Instagram was in the works.

At the time, a Facebook spokesperson told PEOPLE of the new app: "Increasingly, kids are asking their parents if they can join apps that help them keep up with their friend. Right now there aren't many options for parents, so we're working on building additional products — like we did with Messenger Kids — that are suitable for kids, managed by parents."

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, also noted to BuzzFeed News that the company has "to do a lot here," but "part of the solution is to create a version of Instagram for young people or kids where parents have transparency or control. It's one of the things we're exploring."

U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal and Congresswomen Kathy Castor and Lori Trahan on April 5 sent a letter to Zuckerberg urging him to cancel plans for the app.

In their note, they asked a series of questions about the app's purpose and safety and asked for answers by April 26.