Shelving Instagram for Kids will not alone remove the potential harms that social media brings to the young as four-in-ten kids below minimum age already use social media.
Forty-four US attorneys-generals have urged Mark Zuckerberg to shelve plans to launch Instagram for Kids.
Writing to Facebook’s CEO through the National Association of Attorneys General the legal advisers to the government urged Zuckerberg to abandon plans to further develop his app designed for under 13s.
According to internal documents seen by Buzzfeed News, the social media giant is exploring the idea of building a version of Instagram that can be controlled by parents. Known internally as Instagram Youth, the new app will be a paired-down version of the image sharing platform.
Vishal Shah, Instagram’s VP of product, has told staff that the platform is “building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time”. Currently 13 is the minimum age required by Instagram users.
In their letter the attorneys-general state the “use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account”. They continue, “Young children are not equipped to handle the range of challenges that come with having an Instagram account. Children do not have a developed understanding of privacy. Specifically, they may not fully appreciate what content is appropriate for them to share with others, the permanency of content they post on an online platform, and who has access to what they share online.”
Hannah Murphy writing in the Financial Times last night notes, that at a US House of Representatives hearing in March “Zuckerberg and fellow social media executives, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Google’s Sundar Pichai, faced a barrage of accusations that their platforms are deliberately designed to get young users hooked early, track children online and expose them to toxic content and predators.”
42% of children below minimum age requirement use social media
And here’s the crux of it. We don’t like the idea of exposing children to social media. We don’t like the idea of an app aimed squarely at children. Specifically we don’t like the idea of an app designed for children by Facebook. The Company’s 2017 launch of the Messenger for Kids app initially allowed children to join group chats with strangers without their parents’ approval. The flaw was later fixed.
We may not like any of it. But we are delusional if we believe this is not already happening. More than four-in-ten children in the UK (42%) report using social media sites or apps before they reach the minimum age requirement according to the new ‘Children and parents: media use and attitudes report’ 2020/21 from Ofcom.
Parents don’t know minimum age for profiles
Parents are complicit. They told researchers they knew the minimum age requirements for setting up social media accounts. But most got the age wrong. Almost nine in ten parents of 5-15s said they knew about minimum age restrictions. Yet less than four-in-ten were able to accurately state the minimum age requirement for most social media sites and apps as 13 years-old.
A third of parents said they would allow their children to use social media regardless of the rules. Three in ten parents of children below the minimum age requirement (that is, aged between 5 and 12) said they would allow their child to use social media despite the age requirement.
Half-of-parents surveyed were aware of technical controls allowing them to restrict access to inappropriate online content, for example Google SafeSearch, YouTube Restricted Mode, or TikTok Family Safety Mode. Again, just three in ten had adopted them to manage their child’s online use.
As parents we can not abdicate our responsibility for keeping our children safe. It is our duty to ensure our young, loved ones are equipped with appropriate critical understanding to make sense of technology. Media literacy enables everyone to have the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to make full use of the opportunities presented both by traditional and by new communications services.
Media literacy also helps people to manage content and communications, and protect themselves and their families from the potential risks associated with using these services.
This is not to place the onus for regulation solely in the hands of parents. But banning an Instagram for Kids app will not alone remove the potential harms that social media brings to the young and the vulnerable.