Instagram for kids? Facebook wants to fix its preteen problem
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With a version of Instagram for kids, Facebook Inc. says it can build a safer social-media haven for users under 13.
Yet the company faces hurdles from lawmakers who want the tech giant to keep its distance from kids—and the fact that plenty of children under 13 are already using the regular Instagram app.
The issue was brought into sharp relief this week, in the form of a letter sent by Democratic lawmakers to the company that raises fresh questions about Facebook’s recently announced plans for an Instagram-branded product designed for children under 13. Users under 13 are currently prohibited from joining any of the company’s platforms.
The letter follows a congressional hearing last month in which lawmakers from both parties bombarded Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg with questions about the plan, alleging that heavy usage of the company’s platforms is unhealthy for young people.
“Facebook and Instagram are in the crosshairs, and they should be,” said Jim Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, an advocacy group promoting safe technology use for families. He cited research findings that heavy use of social media can undermine teenagers’ mental health in some circumstances. “Given the privacy and safety track record of Facebook and Instagram, would you let them be your kids’ babysitter?”
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Mr. Zuckerberg said at the hearing that the company’s products should be used with supervision, and can help young people maintain connections with friends. He acknowledged that plenty of children lie about their age in order to sign up for Instagram.
Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said young users lying about their ages are a problem across the industry, and the company wants to provide solutions.
“We know people under 13 want to use the internet, want to use Instagram, and we think one of the more responsible things we can do is build a product where parents consent and have control,” said Mr. Mosseri in an interview, emphasizing that the new service is still early in its development and has no set launch date.
Instagram’s version for kids, if launched, would likely give parents tools to monitor their children’s social media accounts, rather than place filters on what content young users can see and how they can interact on the platform, Mr. Mosseri said. A kids’ product would be entirely free of ads, he added.
“The product has to be compelling enough that it’s not going to give people a reason to lie about their age,” Mr. Mosseri said.