Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook has come under heavy criticism for its plans to build a new version of Instagram specifically for kids.
The move promises to boost Facebook’s bottom line, particularly in this pandemic era, but activists say it threatens to put children at risk.
US-based International Coalition of Children’s Health Advocates (ICCHA), a group of young activists focusing on child protection and health, has called on Facebook to abandon that plan.
Their campaign follows a report by Buzzfeed in March, that Facebook is developing a version of Instagram that’s specifically aimed at children under 13, as it current policy prohibits kids under 13 from using the platform.
Apart from ICCHA, dozens of other groups, researchers and individuals have reported openly made similarly calls on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to ditch the plan, arguing that it would put young people at risk and do more harm than good.
They argue that loads of research have showed that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to adolescents, and could worse for kids, adding that 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 platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing,” they noted.
According to them, younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with the challenges adolescents face on social media, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships, and their inner sense of strengths and challenges during this crucial window of development.
“Moreover, young children are highly persuadable by algorithmic prediction of what they might click on next, and we are very concerned about how automated decision making would determine what children see and experience on a kids’ Instagram platform,” the critics said.
The letter further argued that pre-teens who have established existing Instagram accounts by lying about their date of birth are unlikely to migrate to a “babyish” version of the platform, and that the real target for a kids’ version of Instagram is a much younger cohort that doesn’t currently use the platform.
But Zuckerberg reported downplayed the concerns being raised about their plans, telling a panel on antitrust concerns against the company that “there is clearly a large number of people under the age of 13 who would want to use a service like Instagram.”
This is not the first time Facebook is being criticized by child rights advocates for targeting kids.
In 2017, Facebook launched Messenger Kids, aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 12, and several children’s health advocates called on Mark Zuckerberg to discontinue the product, citing research that “excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.”
But Facebook insisted that it had consulted multiple experts during the app’s development, although a Wired report later revealed that the company had financial relationships with many of the people and organizations that advised on the product.
The policy, originally intended to launch February 8, 2021, has been postponed to May 15, 2021, and WhatsApp users who do not agree to the new policy would not be able to use their WhatsApp accounts from that date.
Even though Facebook claims the policy applies only to business accounts on WhatsApp, all users, including individuals are being compelled to agree to the policy or lose their WhatsApp accounts.
Millions of WhatsApp users have therefore created accounts on other messaging platforms like Signal and Telegram to secure themselves in case they lose their WhatsApp account on May 15.
Meanwhile, Apple has also launched a policy to protect iPhone and iPad users from being exploited by Facebook.