Instagram Kids app is stalled

Instagram has postponed the development of ‘Instagram kids’ due to pressure from Congress. 44 US attorney-generals wrote to Zuckerberg calling on him to drop the plan and Facebook’s global head of safety was invited to stand before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing about child safety last Thursday.

Facebook’s manager Adam Mosseri has made it very clear that the plan has not been abandoned, saying Facebook still believes it is the ‘right thing to do’. The app is targeted at children aged 13 and below and according to Facebook, it’s being developed in response to demands calling for improvement of child online safety.

The plans officially came to a halt when a whistle-blower wrote to Wall Street with information regarding an internal review that showed that Instagram harmed teenagers’ wellbeing. The fact these results were hidden from public view shines a suspicious light on Facebook and begs the question of whether we can trust Facebook with our children’s wellbeing.

Instagram has been called upon to improve its identification of underage users and to make an effort to reduce harmful content on the app for many years. 5Rights foundation in London found that children age 13 were targeted with harmful content within 24 hours of downloading the app – content related to eating disorders, self-harm and suicide. Instagram hasn’t responded to this with mitigating methods, and if the app fails to work towards making a safe space for teenagers and adults I do not believe the business should be trusted with our children.

In response to complaints levelled at the original app, Instagram said that ‘we use a variety of algorithms, classifiers and processes, each with its own purpose’ and explained that they are beholden to the algorithms and have little control.

Facebook has replied to the entreaties to make social media spaces safer with a freedom-of-speech diatribe, with Mosseri saying he did not think this would be right. Hypocritically, when controlling the algorithms benefits Facebook’s business model, it has shown itself to be very competent. An example is in 2011 Facebook decided games from Zynga disrupted Facebook usage and responded by limiting how many messages gaming companies could send to Facebook users. This resulted in Zynga usage declining. Facebook already uses its capabilities to suppress terrorist propaganda. Why Facebook cannot use the same methods to protect teenagers’ mental health is not clear.

This makes one question the ability of Facebook to create a safe social media app for children. Facebook has already shown an inept ability to keep our information safe with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Imagine if something similar happened to personal data about children, data we allowed our children to put online, potentially for adults to access and utilize in atrocious ways.

There is no denying that the app would be useful for the Facebook business model, giving Facebook information on people from a young age allows Facebook to create profiles and statistics with even greater detail.

I struggle to see a positive resulting from the creation of the app. I believe Instagram as we know it does have some positives, one being the ability to create positive change through connecting people and circulating important news that is not fairly represented in the media. These benefits do not transfer to child users, who should not have to concern themselves with news reports and world issues.

Mrs. Otway, a Facebook spokesperson, has said that Facebook would only use age-appropriate ads, yet targeting children with advertisements whatever the type could be detrimental to their mental health. It incites children to enter a consumer culture at too young an age. Consumer culture requires people to lack contentment, as it incites us to remedy this through consuming products. Consumer culture only works by repeatedly selling false promises of happiness that never enter fruition. Encouraging children to enter this unhealthy mindset is immoral, and detrimental to their happiness and wellbeing.

Instagram says preventing a children-orientated app is unfair: YouTube and Tik Tok already own child platforms. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in Boston is doing important work to inform the public about the concerns surrounding the app. They pointed out that the children targeted by the app (those aged 10-12 years old) are unlikely to use it, as it is a ‘babyish’ version of the real thing. All the platform will succeed in doing is enticing even younger people to have an online presence. This has already been shown to be unhealthy for adolescents. During adolescence, people try to shape their identity and discover who they wish to be in the world. An online presence has been shown to complicate this and lead to mental illnesses and false consciousness. The effects of pressurising even younger children to have an online identity are not known, but I believe they are unlikely to be positive.

Through lockdown, we have seen children spend record amounts of time online. Let this time be spent in an environment free from advertisements and unsafe content, away from worldly concerns and with the purpose of play. We must allow our children to discover who they are in the real world, before concerning themselves with how they would like to appear online.

Image Credit: Pxfuel