Attorneys General of more than 40 US states have called for Mark Zuckerberg to reverse plans for a version of Instagram aimed at children.
In March, Buzzfeed published an internal company post stating that the company was looking to build a version of Instagram for children under 13 – the current age minimum of the app.
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, told Buzzfeed that an increasing number of children were using social media apps, and that it was difficult to verify their ages.
He said, “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.”
The move has been criticised due to fears that introducing young children to social media could be damaging to their mental health and wellbeing.
In their letter to Zuckerberg, the Attorneys General wrote: “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 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.”
The letter also cites research that shows how, over the last decade, mental health issues and mental health treatment have risen in parallel to increased social media use amongst young people.
One of the other reasons given was the historic failure of Facebook to protect young people, including a ‘mistake’ on Instagram which showed dieting content – including terms like fasting and appetite suppressants – to users who had suffered from eating disorders.
It also cited flaws in Facebook’s most significant offering aimed at children, the Messenger Kids app. The app works by only allowing children to speak to people approved by their parents, but contained a loophole where users could join group chats with people who had not been approved.
In a statement to The New York Times, a spokesperson for Facebook said that “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.”
The statement echoes Mosseri’s original statement to Buzzfeed back in March.
The Attorneys General’s concerns were shared by chid safety groups, who have also written to Facebook about the platform.
The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, supported by 35 organisations and 64 experts, wrote a letter in April.
It read, “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.”