The attorneys general of 44 territories and states in the United States are urging Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg to abandon plans to introduce a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13.
“It seems that Facebook does not react to a need, but creates one, as this platform primarily addresses children who otherwise do not have an Instagram account or would not have,” said the attorneys general in a letter sent to Zuckerberg (PDF).
The letter, signed by attorneys-general of 40 states along with attorneys-general of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, underscores how harmful social media can be to the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of children.
“The use of social media can adversely affect the health and well-being of children who are unable to cope with the challenges of having a social media account,” said the attorneys general.
An increase in psychological distress, depression, body image problems and suicidal thoughts in young people has been attributed to social media use, the attorneys general added.
Children and teenagers are simply not ready or willing to tackle the myriad of challenges associated with having an Instagram account because they lack the developed understanding of privacy and are not yet able to determine what content is on those platforms should be shared.
Also, children under the age of 13 may not understand the durability of the content they share online.
“They are also simply too young to navigate the complexities of their online encounters, including inappropriate content and online relationships where other users, including predators, can use the anonymity of the Internet to obscure their identities,” the attorneys general said.
BuzzFeed News reported in March that Instagram is planning to bring out a version for teenage children.
Last month, the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) urged Zuckerberg to abandon plans to launch the Instagram app for children under 13, stressing that doing so would put the youth at “great risk”. The efforts of the Attorneys General are also supported by the CCFC.
“Instagram, in particular, is taking advantage of young people’s fear of missing out and their desire for peer approval to encourage children and teenagers to constantly check their devices and share photos with their followers,” said CCFC in its letter (PDF).
The attorneys general on Monday underlined that cyberbullying among children is a critical problem that a new Instagram platform could likely exacerbate. Children can be more cruel behind a computer – a phenomenon currently prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic as children spend more time on social media.
The attorneys general also cited that Facebook has been shown to fail to protect children’s safety and privacy, despite claims that its products are subject to strict privacy controls.
For example, Facebook’s Messenger Kids app, which was developed for children between the ages of six and twelve, contained a design flaw that allowed children to navigate restrictions on interactions and participate in group chats with strangers not previously supported by the parents of the Children had been approved citing a 2019 report.
For its part, Facebook said in a statement on Monday that it is investigating Instagram for children to give parents more control over the content their children may already be accessing online and will make every effort to keep young users safe, including by no advertising is placed on the platform.
“We are developing these experiences in consultation with child development, child safety and mental health experts, as well as privacy advocates,” the company said. “We also look forward to working with lawmakers and regulators, including the country’s attorneys-general.”
Facebook also said it was a founding sponsor of the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, which was launched in March to study the effects of digital technology on the “brain, body and behavior” of children.
The following attorneys general signed Monday’s letter: Massachusetts, Nebraska, Vermont, Tennessee, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Columbia District , Puerto Rico, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.