Facebook announced on Monday (Sept. 27) that it is pausing the rollout of Instagram Kids, a version of its popular photo-sharing app designed specifically for children under 13.
The social media company made the decision as criticism mounted over Instagram’s negative effect on teenage girls, particularly internal research that showed it made teen girls feel worse about their own bodies.
Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said in a statement Monday that he believes Instagram Kids is important because children are already using the app, which is technically only for children 13 and older. “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,” Mosseri said.
Instagram Kids would be an ad-free environment with heightened content controls for parents, the company said, similar to YouTube Kids, or Spotify Kids, or Facebook’s Messenger Kids. On Messenger Kids, a design flaw allowed thousands of children to join chats with unauthorized users in 2019.
In April, the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to cease plans for Instagram Kids. The group said that 10 to 12-year-olds would not migrate to the “babyish” app and it would just onboard even younger children to Instagram. On Monday, Jim Steyer, the CEO of the nonprofit Common Sense Media said that Instagram only cares about “hooking kids when they are most vulnerable, keeping them on the platform and getting access to as much of their personal data as possible.”
US lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern about Instagram Kids and a group of Democratic members of Congress wrote a letter to Zuckerberg asking for more information on how he plans to roll out the app to what they called a “uniquely vulnerable population online.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Sept. 14 that Facebook’s internal research showed that Instagram has a negative impact on teen girls’ self-perceptions. “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the company said in an internal presentation from March 2020.
In a podcast interview with Recode shortly after, Mosseri compared social media to cars. “Cars create way more value in the world than they destroy,” he said. “And I think social media is similar.” Peter Kafka, the podcast host, pointed out the robust regulatory apparatus for cars, relative to the almost non-existent US regulatory framework governing social media companies.
In his statement Monday, Mosseri said he stands by Instagram Kids and wishes to continue developing it in the future. Pausing the project, however, will give his team time to talk to “parents, experts, policymakers, and regulators” about their concerns.