Development plans for Instagram Kids are on hold for now, the photo-sharing app’s chief announced on Monday, after The Wall Street Journal reported in a series of investigative articles that Facebook is aware that Instagram is harmful to the mental health of teenage girls.
“While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we’ve decided to pause this project,” said Instagram head Adam Mosseri in a statement published on Monday. “This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.”
Facebook bought Instagram back in 2012 for $1bn. The app targeting kids is viewed as instrumental to expanding and holding on to young users who are increasingly shunning Facebook in favour of rival apps such as TikTok for their social media consumption.
Facebook came under fire earlier this month after The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in a series it dubbed “Facebook Files” claimed internal documents show that the tech giant knows the harm Instagram has on teenage girls’ mental health. Facebook’s own researchers found that teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression, the WSJ reported.
But on Monday, Instagram’s head pushed back.
“Recent reporting from the WSJ on our research into teen’s experiences on Instagram has raised a lot of questions for people. To be clear, I don’t agree with how the Journal has reported on our research,” Mosseri wrote.
Pausing ‘Instagram Kids’ and Building Parental Supervision Tools https://t.co/GGlD9puw4j
— Facebook Newsroom (@fbnewsroom) September 27, 2021
He went on to defend Facebook’s plans to build a photo-sharing app for kids, adding that it’s better for parents to have the option to give their children access to a version of Instagram designed exclusively for children — “where parents can supervise and control their experience — than relying on an app’s ability to verify the age of kids who are too young to have an ID.
“We started this project to address an important problem seen across our industry: kids are getting phones younger and younger, misrepresenting their age, and downloading apps that are meant for those 13 or older,” Mosseri said, adding that the current version of Instagram was never meant for younger kids.
In April, Children’s advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) urged Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg to abandon plans for an Instagram targeting kids under 13, warning that it would put children at “great risk”.
Other apps such as YouTube and TikTok already have versions of their app for those under 13.
Instagram Kids would require parental permission to join. It would not have ads and would only have age-appropriate content. Parents would also have the power to supervise their children and decide how they spend time on the app and who they can message, who can follow them and vice versa, Mosseri said.
“I have three children and their safety is the most important thing in my life,” he added. “I hear the concerns with this project, and we’re announcing these steps today so we can get it right.”