Facebook is continuing to receive harsh criticism over its plans to pause — but not abandon — development of Instagram Kids, a platform designed for kids under the age of 13. The social media giant cited “time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators to listen to their concerns,” as the key driving factor for pausing the development of Instagram Kids.
But the decision to pause the project instead of abandoning it has drawn widespread criticism. Facebook representatives appeared before the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee this Thursday, September 30, facing harsh questions on the tails of a Wall Street Journal article that revealed Facebook executives were apparently aware that Instagram is having negative effects on its teen users.
The so-called “bombshell” revelations followed a leak of documents associated with an apparent internal investigation conducted by Facebook. The investigation reportedly revealed that the social media company was aware that Instagram users were experiencing adverse mental health effects, particularly teen girls who were left feeling bad about their self-image after using the app.
During the hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D – Connecticut) called the leaked documents “powerful, gripping, riveting evidence that Facebook knows of the harmful effects of its site on children and that it has concealed those facts and findings.”
At the recent Senate subcommittee hearing, Facebook Head of Global Security Antigone Davis challenged the Wall Street Journal’s categorization of the investigation, indicating that the company plans to release additional studies in its attempt to improve overall transparency.
Senator Blumenthal has reportedly joined with Senator Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee) to launch a probe into what Facebook knew (and when) about Instagram’s impact on teens and other users. This move, in combination with the recent hearing, has many surmising that it may just be a matter of time before government oversight takes effect on social media platforms that try to market to children.
Facebook and Instagram have seen increasing controversy over its decision to target younger users more aggressively with new kid-friendly apps. Concerns have been voiced over the technology used to custom-tailor the content that shows in a given user’s feed based upon their activity on the app, combined with recent browsing habits, location and so forth. News personalities such as CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Prime Time have speculated that this technology could be used to push an agenda upon young users during a very formative period of life — a trend that is already raising serious concern among parents.
Facebook Messenger Kids Designed for a Younger Demographic
The future of Instagram kids remains unclear, but Facebook is no stranger to building apps designed for young users — although thus far, they’ve been far less controversial than Instagram Kids. One example is Messenger Kids, intended for users under age 13 (which is the minimum age required to use Facebook and Facebook Messenger).
Released in December 2017, Facebook created an ad-free instant messaging platform for kids, with a few key differences. With Messenger Kids, young users can register with just a first and last name instead of a phone number as is required for the standard Facebook Messenger app.
Facebook’s Messenger Kids also has a parental control dashboard where parents can control who their child contacts and when thanks to usage limits. Parents have the capability to monitor their child’s messages too.
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