On Monday, a group of 44 attorneys general, made up of both Democrats and Republicans, put their signatures on a letter addressed to Mark Zuckerberg encouraging him to ax Facebook’s plan to launch a version of Instagram for kids younger than 13. The letter justifies its ask based on mental health and privacy concerns for its young users, and comes less than a month after Congress and child safety groups aired similar grievances.
“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,” the letter argued. “Further, Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms. The attorneys general have an interest in protecting our youngest citizens, and Facebook’s plans to create a platform where kids under the age of 13 are encouraged to share content online is contrary to that interest.”
In a statement given to CNN Business, a Facebook spokesperson said the proposed service would allow for parents to exercise more control over the online activities of their kids.
“As every parent knows, kids are already online. We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing,” said that spokesperson. “We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates. We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general. In addition, we commit today to not showing ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13.”
In March, BuzzFeed News came into possession of an internal Instagram memo that said it had “identified youth work as a priority for Instagram.” It added that it was going ahead with plans to build a version of the social media site specifically aimed at children.
During the same month, Zuckerberg was asked at a Congressional hearing about the company’s plans.
“I find that very concerning, targeting this particular age bracket, 13 and under, given the free services, how exactly will you be making money?” said Florida Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis. “Or, are you trying to monetize our children, too, and get them addicted early?”
Zuckerberg claimed the platform was still in the early exploratory stages, and added that “there is clearly a large number of people under the age of 13 who would want to use a service like Instagram.”
Currently kids under 13 are not officially allowed on Instagram. But, well, you were or are still a teen, you know you can work around that.
The new letter expresses concerns that kids “may not fully appreciate what content is appropriate for them to share with others, the permanency of content they post on an online platform, and who has access to what they share online. They are also simply too young to navigate the complexities of what they encounter online.”
The group of AGs also cited research/news reports that claims social media negatively effects the well-being of children, and that it can lead to lower self-esteem and increased suicidal ideation.
“It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,” the attorney generals said. “In short, an Instagram platform for young children is harmful for myriad reasons. The attorneys general urge Facebook to abandon its plans to launch this new platform.”