Instagram for kids paused after backlash

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Plans to make an “Instagram experience” for under-13s, dubbed Instagram Kids, have been paused.

Facebook would use the time to listen to “parents, experts, policymakers and regulators”, Instagram head Adam Mosseri wrote.

It follows leaked internal research the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said showed Instagram was “toxic for teen girls”.

But in a recent blog, Facebook head of research Pratiti Raychoudhury called this allegation “simply not accurate”.

Instagram requires users to be at least 13 before they create an account – but many children under that age use the platform anyway.

And the company previously told BBC News Instagram Kids would be a “practical solution to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps” and enable children to connect with family and friends in an “age appropriate way”.

But in April, a letter from the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, signed by 99 groups and individuals, claimed the “image-obsessed” platform was dangerous for children’s health and privacy and called for the project to be scrapped.

Supervision tools

In the new blog post, Mr Mosseri said he still believed it was better to have a version of Instagram for 10-12-year-olds, rather “than relying on an app’s ability to verify the age of kids who are too young to have an ID”.

“The reality is that kids are already online,” he said.

While the project is paused, Instagram will expand its work on new opt-in parental supervision tools, to cover 13-19-year-olds currently on Instagram.

There would be more announcements on that in the coming months, Mr Mosseri wrote.

And while he disagreed with the WSJ’s interpretation of the leaked research it had “raised a lot of questions for people”.

In 2020, teenage girls were asked when they felt bad about their bodies did Instagram make them feel:

  • worse – 32%
  • better – 22%
  • “no impact” – 46%

But Facebook said the survey:

  • “relied on input from only 40 teens”
  • was deliberately focused on the most negative aspects of Instagram, to help the company make improvements
  • showed body image was the only one of 12 possible teenage problems Instagram made worse for girls

In other areas such as eating issues, loneliness, anxiety and sadness, “teenage girls who said they experienced these challenges were more likely to say that Instagram made these issues better v worse,” it said.

“The research actually demonstrated that many teens we heard from feel that using Instagram helps them when they are struggling with the kinds of hard moments and issues teenagers have always faced”, Ms Raychoudhury wrote, two weeks after the WSJ report, part of its Facebook Files series.

But technology news site The Verge said Facebook’s response “ignores many of the issues raised in the WSJ piece, including that teens claimed they felt addicted to Instagram”.

Commentators have challenged Facebook to make public the research.

And on Monday, a Facebook representative told BBC News it planned to release some of the research material to Congress.

“Our plan is to release the two most noteworthy source decks to Congress and we’re looking at a potential public release,” they said.

“Our intention is that they will become public.”

Facebook global head of safety Antigone Davis will answer questions at forthcoming US Senate committee, where she is expected to be asked about the WSJ report and plans for Instagram Kids.

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