In the early months of 2021, Facebook announced the development of “Instagram Kids,” a platform made for youth ages 10-13. They boasted with pride and confidence that this new platform for kids would be outfitted with better security controls, parental approval to join and monitor their usage, and no ads, but it was still met with quite a bit of anger and frustration by parents, politicians, and lawmakers alike.
Approximately 44 attorneys general came together to urge the one and only Mark Zuckerberg to abandon the project. Members of Congress and various child welfare groups requested that the social media giant stop work on the platform altogether. Facebook neither listened nor reacted to the requests, instead moving forward with the app as originally intended.
We’re pausing “Instagram Kids.” This was a tough decision. I still think building this experience is the right thing to do, but we want to take more time to speak with parents and experts working out how to get this right. pic.twitter.com/gMbPjft0CW
— Adam Mosseri 😷 (@mosseri) September 27, 2021
Coming on the heels of a major exposé by The Wall Street Journal on the negative effects of social media, specifically on teenage girls, Facebook announced earlier this week that they would be “pausing” the development of Instagram Kids. The social media giant was quick to state that they’re not abandoning the platform; instead, they’re simply using the time to meet and discuss additional ways that this platform could provide value and fulfill a necessary need with those same parents, lawmakers and groups.
As a mom of a three-year-old with a second baby on the way, I have quite a few fears, questions, and overall issues with “Instagram Kids” and other potential platforms like it. But, I also work in this industry and for the most part, when taking my “Mom Hat” off for just a second, I can understand Facebook’s intentions with the creation of Instagram Kids. There are a few pros with this platform — let’s review:
Parental approval required to join
Now this, I like. While kids ages 10-13 are independent, strong-willed, and have their opinions about anything and everything, boundaries need to be set and parental control still applies. Ensuring that the parents have control in signing their children up for Instagram Kids, and have the ability to monitor their activity, ideally leaves them in a better position to know what is going on in their children’s online lives.
Instagram Kids supposedly would include controls to ensure that the worst of Instagram — body shaming, bullying, racism, targeted ads — is kept out.
But who can trust Facebook after years of data harvesting and dissembling about its vaunted News Feed?https://t.co/rzkVDVO5uF
— 𝚐𝚛𝚎𝚐 𝚋𝚎𝚗𝚜𝚒𝚗𝚐𝚎𝚛. (@GregBensinger) September 30, 2021
While I believe that there’s ultimately a “catch” to this benefit, I am pleased to hear that it will be part of the initial platform. Facebook’s ad platform is extremely nuanced, and we’re talking about young minds here. Ads will not serve any strong benefit to these kids.
Better security controls
Two words: I approve. But, I again wonder what the “catch” is here and what exactly Facebook means by “better security controls.” We all know just how easy it is to create a fake email address and sign up for an account. We also know just how easy it is to do a quick Google search for a stock image to use to create said fake account. What security measures would Facebook implement to ensure that it really is just kids on the platform? That remains to be seen.
Alright, so my pros list is short and filled with many asterisks that have yet to be determined. Regardless, it’s important to note that Facebook is taking those three items into consideration during the development of the app.
Now, the cons:
Negative impact on mental health
According to the recently released Wall Street Journal exposé, Facebook has been researching teenage girls’ behaviors on the photo-sharing platform for the last three years. They’ve found that “thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” This was posted to Facebook’s internal message board in a March 2020 presentation. Another slide within the same presentation said, “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression.”
— Eli Pariser 🏞📲 (@elipariser) September 14, 2021
Should you choose to read more, the rest of the exposé is here. It was due to this particular piece that Facebook paused all work on Instagram Kids. Now this? This scares me, as a parent, as an advertising professional, and as a human being.
Adults alone feel overwhelmed and mentally and emotionally drained from the mindless scrolling that takes place on Instagram. We feel the pressure to post picture-perfect images with all blemishes and parts of our bodies and lives that we’re not pleased with hidden to showcase a curated view of the quintessential life.
But, here’s the most important piece to remember: our brains are fully developed and we still need to take a break from all the toxic perfection and scrolling. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, teenage brains aren’t fully developed until the age of 25. They can’t navigate or take a few steps back to truly realize that this view of perfection isn’t real.
A survey by Common Sense Media showed the following stats to demonstrate a rapidly growing addiction to technology in kids:
- In 2015, approximately 24 percent of kids aged 8-12 had their own smartphone
- In 2019, that percentage increased to 41 percent, and the average 8-12 year old was spending close to five hours looking at screens every day
While much of this responsibility and regulation does belong to the parents, this addiction is still incredibly important to note, simply because it brings up the dependency component of the platform — that these kids are so dependent upon these tools to prove their worth and improve their self-confidence.
Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, just gave a pretty damning explanation for why FB is building Instagram Kids pic.twitter.com/DtZeuOx74Y
— Kurt Wagner (@KurtWagner8) October 5, 2021
Unsurprisingly, one in three children are cyberbullied and approximately 70 percent of children have stated that they have cyberbullied someone online. Developing and having a youth-oriented Instagram platform will simply open the door to additional bullying, leading back to my question about security measures.
Now, I know that this is an incredibly complicated item to add to my list, and there are a huge number of variables to consider, including the fact that if a kid is going to bully, they will find a way to bully, period. If they’re already finding ways onto the current “adults” version of Instagram to bully, they’ll absolutely be able to do so on the kids version. My primary intention is to identify that cyberbullying, while varied, still occurs and is a large component of a developing child’s self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth.
So here we are, at the end of this pro/con list for Instagram Kids. While the arguments for and against this platform aren’t going to be solved with my blog or with any number of articles, I do wholeheartedly believe that more conversations and discussions need to take place for Facebook to hear parents’ concerns and take them seriously.
As for my kids and their involvement with the platform, ask me again in a few years, but I think it’s clear where my opinion lies. Do you have an opinion or a preference with Instagram Kids? Let us know what you think!