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Advocacy group urges Facebook to abandon idea of Instagram for children under 13

Critics say the ‘image-obsessed’ app isn’t appropriate for a demographic going through rapid developmental changes

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Photo (c) Keiko Iwabuchi - Getty Images
In a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood expressed opposition to the idea of an Instagram for children under 13 years old. The group claimed the “image-obsessed” social network would have a negative impact on developing young minds, even if it would be “managed by parents” as Facebook promised. 

The letter, which was signed by 99 groups and individuals around the world, also took issue with the privacy implications of establishing an Instagram for children. 

“We agree that the current version of Instagram is not safe for children under 13 and that something must be done to protect the millions of children who have lied about their age to create Instagram accounts, especially since their presence on the platform could be a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and other nations’ privacy laws,” the letter said. 

The group contended that launching a version of the photo-sharing app for children under 13 is “not the right remedy and would put young users at great risk.” 

Mental health and privacy risks

The signatories pointed out that Instagram is already used by those under 13, and those users aren’t likely to “abandon it for a new site that seems babyish.” Moreover, the group said the nature of the platform is not suitable for children who are in the midst of such a formative period. 

“In the elementary and middle school years, children experience incredible growth in their social competencies, abstract thinking, and sense of self. Finding outlets for self-expression and connection with their peers become especially important,” the letter said. “We are concerned that a proposed Instagram for kids would exploit these rapid developmental changes.” 

Josh Golin, the CCFC’s executive director, added that Instagram’s business model poses inherent risks to kids’ privacy. 

"Instagram's business model relies on extensive data collection, maximising time on devices, promoting a culture of over-sharing and idolising influencers, as well as a relentless focus on often altered physical appearance,” Golin said. “It is certainly not appropriate for seven-year olds."

Potential for exploitation

Although Facebook has said it believes that creating an Instagram for under 13s would help keep them safe on the platform, the CCFC argued that the opposite would be true. 

Allowing a younger demographic to use the social media platform would tap into their “fear of missing out and desire for peer approval,” which would undoubtedly encourage children and teens to check their devices excessively and share photos with their followers. 

“The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing,” the group said. "Instagram's focus on photo-sharing and appearance makes the platform particularly unsuitable for children who are in the midst of crucial stages of developing their sense of self.

"Children and teens (especially young girls) have learned to associate overly sexualised, highly edited photos of themselves with more attention on the platform, and popularity among their peers." 

The highly commercialized nature of the app could also open kids up to being exploited, the letter added. The CCFC said roughly one in every three Instagram posts is an advertisement, according to an analysis by digital monitoring agency Sprout Social.

The letter was signed by 35 organizations and 64 individual experts, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Global Action Plan, and Kidscape.

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