It may have seemed like a good idea at the time: create a child-friendly Instagram app for kids 13 years and younger in an effort to carve out a “safe space” for them outside of the more adult-oriented options. But it all backfired for Facebook earlier this week after the social media giant released a statement saying they had hit pause on the project.
The reason? An in-depth report from the Wall Street Journal (followed by a congressional hearing on Sept. 30) that showed the company was aware of the harmful mental health effects that Instagram was having on teens, especially young girls. And just like that, Facebook found themselves facing criticism and mired in yet another PR nightmare.
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During this week’s hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said in a statement that he and other lawmakers believes Facebook had “completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online, and it must completely abandon this project.” The statement added, “Time and time again, Facebook has demonstrated the failures of self-regulation, and we know that Congress must step in.”
According to multiple sources, Facebook’s own research showed that Instagram has caused teen girls, in particular, to struggle with body positivity and led to increased rates of depression and anxiety — and, yet, the company plowed ahead with their plans to create the new kid-friendly app without addressing any of their earlier findings directly.
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Although Facebook said it still wanted to create an Instagram product that embraced an “age appropriate experience” for its younger users, its postponement has now left the project in limbo.
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, tried to put a positive spin on the whole thing, writing in a blog post that, “this will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.”
He added, “the project leaked way before we knew what it would be”, claiming the company had “few answers” that were ready for the public.
See also: TikTok rolls out new mental health initiative to support young users.
Prior to the social network’s postponement, it had argued that, since kids and young teens were using Instagram anyway, despite the age requirement, it made sense to develop a more age-appropriate version. Facebook claims Instagram Kids is intended for ages 10 to 12 and would still require parental permissions and controls.
Instagram has more than one billion subscribers worldwide, many of them teens and young adults. In the past, Facebook has battled privacy issues, accusations of spreading misinformation and hate speech.
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