Facebook has announced that it's "pausing" its Instagram Kids project in order to "work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the value and need for this product." The announcement follows criticism from 44 state attorneys general who asked Facebook to abandon the project, and a request from Democratic lawmakers for more detail about the project.
The Instagram team said that it was building the app to get around the problem of kids accessing Instagram without parental permission. "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," wrote Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri.
At the same time, the company rejected the idea it was capitulating due to criticism. "Critics of 'Instagram Kids' will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. That’s not the case," Mosseri wrote. "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."
An important part of what we’ve been developing for 'Instagram Kids' is a way for parents to supervise their child’s use of Instagram. While we’re pausing our development of 'Instagram Kids,' we’ll continue our work to allow parents to oversee their children’s accounts by expanding these tools to teen accounts (aged 13 and over) on Instagram.
Some of the issues raised about the project revolve around Facebook's problems with privacy and particularly child safety. "Not only is social media an influential tool that can be detrimental to children who are not of appropriate age, but this plan could place children directly in the paths of predators," New York state attorney general Letitia James said when the project first came to light.
Most recently, The Wall Street Journal published an article claiming that Facebook has knowingly ignored its own research showing that Instagram is toxic to the mental health of younger people. Yesterday, the social network refuted that article as well, saying its research said that young people had "both positive and negative experiences with social media," among other things.
Facebook pointed out that both YouTube and TikTok have versions of their apps for kids under 13. It also said that Instagram Kids would not be the same as Instagram is now, and is meant for tweens between 10 and 12 years old, not younger children.
"It will require parental permission to join, it won’t have ads, and it will have age-appropriate content and features," according to Mosseri. He also pointed out that Facebook has implemented several new measures on issues like body image, encouraging people to look at other topics or take a break if they're dwelling on negative content.
However, lawmakers don't like even the idea of the app, regardless of intent. "The alternative approach that Facebook appears poised to take — specifically, pushing kids to sign up for a new platform that may itself pose threats to young users’ privacy and wellbeing — involves serious challenges and may do more harm than good," wrote a group of Democratic lawmakers.