Facebook suspends Instagram Kids development

28 Sep 2021

Image: © OSORIOartist/Stock.adobe.com

The company has faced a wave of criticism after a recent report alleged it is aware of Instagram’s serious negative effects on young people.

Facebook has said it’s pausing efforts to build Instagram Kids, a version of the social media app for 10 to 12-year-olds.

Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri announced the decision in a blog post, saying the company “stand[s] by the need to develop this experience” but wants 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”.

“Critics of Instagram Kids will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. That’s not the case,” Mosseri continued.

He said that the app was meant to be a response to younger children accessing Instagram regardless of the fact that under-13s are banned from using it.

“The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today.”

According to Mosseri, Instagram Kids was being developed to have no advertisements and include “age-appropriate content and features”. The app was also intended to allow parents to supervise their children’s activity, seeing how much time they spend using it, controlling who they can follow and be followed by, and overseeing and limiting who they can exchange messages with.

The post added that while development of the new app had been put on hold, Instagram would extend some of the supervision features it had been developing to the accounts of kids aged 13 and over.

In 2017, Facebook launched a version of its messaging app for children called Messenger Kids. It also faced calls to scrap that project and after roll-out the app did experience security issues.

The company has faced a wave of criticism since the publication on 14 September of an article in the Wall Street Journal alleging that Facebook had internal research that showed Instagram to be damaging to the mental health and wellbeing of teenage girls.

According to the report, one piece of research at the company said that among teens who reported feeling suicidal ideation, 13pc of those in Britain and 6pc of those in the US said the issue had its roots in Instagram.

Mosseri said he didn’t “agree with how the Journal has reported on our research”.

“We do research like this so we can make Instagram better. That means our insights often shed light on problems, but they inspire new ideas and changes to Instagram.”

Since the publication of the Wall Street Journal report, US lawmakers have called for Facebook to urgently address the issues raised and to cease development of Instagram Kids.

A group of four Democratic senators and representatives said yesterday (27 September) that “Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online”.

They welcomed the suspension of development but said the company “must completely abandon this project”.

Facebook’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, is to testify before the US Senate’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security on Thursday (30 September) in response to the Wall Street Journal article.

The hearing is titled Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram and Mental Health Harms. It will see senators quiz Davis about the details of the company’s internal research and what it is doing to address the issues raised in it.

Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin