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Facebook Halts Plans for ‘Instagram Kids’ App After Backlash

·3-min read

Facebook is tabling “Instagram Kids” for now — but at the same time, Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, says that launching an app for kids under 13 is still “the right thing to do.”

News of the Instagram Kids project came earlier this year, and it was swiftly bashed from several quarters. Critics included more than 40 state attorneys general who urged Facebook to kill the project, raising red flags including research showing social media can be harmful to the emotional and mental well-being of children.

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The move to pause Instagram Kids comes three days before the Sept. 30 House subcommittee hearing “Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms,” at which Antigone Davis, Facebook director, global head of safety, is the sole witness scheduled to testify.

Mosseri, in a blog post Monday, predicted that critics of “Instagram Kids” will interpret the pausing of the app’s development “as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. That’s not the case. The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today.”

Instagram Kids was meant for tweens (aged 10-12) and will require parental permission to join. The app will not have ads and will be filtered for age-appropriate content and features. Halting Instagram Kids “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,” Mosseri wrote.

The decision to pause Instagram Kids also follows a Wall Street Journal report earlier this month that cited Instagram’s own research showing that Instagram is “toxic” for teenage girls. For example, 32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, “Instagram made them feel worse,” according to a March 2020 research report conducted by Instagram that was shared on Facebook’s internal message board, per the WSJ report.

Mosseri and other Facebook execs have pushed back on the Journal’s reporting. On Sunday, Facebook shared a post by Pratiti Raychoudhury, VP and head of research at Facebook, in which she argued that the WSJ’s characterization of the internal research is “not accurate” and lacked context. In fact, according to Raychoudhury, on 11 of 12 well-being issues, teenage girls who said they struggled with difficult issues also said that Instagram made them better rather than worse.

“We do research like this so we can make Instagram better,” Mosseri wrote in the post Monday. “That means our insights often shed light on problems, but they inspire new ideas and changes to Instagram.” Last week, Instagram announced that it is looking at two new ideas: encouraging people to look at other topics if they’re dwelling on content that might contribute to “negative social comparison” and a feature tentatively called “Take a Break,” where people could put their account on pause.

Mosseri also pointed out that competitors like YouTube and TikTok also have purpose-built versions of their app for kids under 13.

“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 wrote. “We firmly believe that it’s better for parents to have the option to give their children access to a version of Instagram that is designed for them — 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.”

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