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Public Criticism Causes Facebook to Postpone the Development of New Social Media App for Kids

On Monday September 27, 2021, Facebook decided to pause the development of Instagram Kids, an app geared towards children aged 13 or younger, because of concerns about it contributing to mental health issues. The scandal has caused many to think carefully about how social media affects teens and preteens. There seems to be a consensus that social media companies should be more careful when it comes to children. A Washington Post journalist wrote that “The National Center on Sexual Exploitation said Instagram for kids was an irresponsible idea from its inception.”


News about Facebook’s app development was leaked earlier this year. However, the uproar started in late September when a Congressional Hearing revealed that the company knew of the damaging effects this platform had on teenage girls. “The Wall Street Journal cited Facebook studies over the past three years that examined how Instagram affects its young user base, with teenage girls being most notably harmed,” according to CNBC. Facebook claims that its new app would be a “safer” version of Instagram because of options for parental control, much like Google did with Kids Youtube. Except most people aren’t buying it. 


The issue has led lawmakers to reevaluate the impact of social media on teens, especially young girls. “Parents and child welfare advocates say the app could weigh on kids’ mental health at a critical moment in their cognitive development,” states the The Washington Post. Many people are frustrated with Facebook’s lack of concern for how social media forums may negatively influence their target audience. But Facebook is not willing to shut down the project completely. CNBC says, “While we believe building ‘Instagram Kids’ is the right thing to do, Instagram, and its parent company Facebook, will re-evaluate the project at a later date. In the interim Instagram will continue to focus on teen safety and expanding parental supervision features for teens.” 


Facebook’s claims that it is creating a “safe” app for kids is a subject of intense debate.  5Rights Foundation, A London organization that focuses on digital rights issues for children says that the making of “Instagram Kids” was one step in the wrong direction.“The group published a report in July showing that children as young as 13 were targeted within 24 hours of creating an account with harmful content, including material related to eating disorders, extreme diets, sexualized imagery, body shaming, self-harm and suicide,” according to the New York Times. While teens have been using  social media for many years, people are just starting to realize how they are affected by what they see online. Giving social media access to younger children seems like a disaster in the making. 

Because Facebook’s app, Instagram, is in competition with Snapchat and Tik Tok for attention for teens, it is no surprise that they are looking for the attention of younger audiences now more than ever. But at what cost? “The only thing they care about is hooking kids when they are most vulnerable, keeping them on the platform and getting access to as much of their personal data as possible,” said Jim Steyer in the New York Times, founder and chief executive of the advocacy group Common Sense Media. Although some people are not totally against the idea, Instagram Kids probably won’t be available to download anytime soon. For now, at least, keeping children safe is taking precedence over profits.