AP

EXPLAINER: Why Facebook is holding off on kids’ Instagram

Sep 28, 2021, 6:44 AM
FILE - This Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, file photo shows the Instagram app icon on the screen of a mobil...
FILE - This Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, file photo shows the Instagram app icon on the screen of a mobile device in New York. Bowing to pressure from lawmakers, critics, the media and child development experts, Facebook said Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, it will “pause" its work on a kids' version of its photo-oriented Instagram app. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)
(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Bowing — perhaps only for a moment — to pressure from lawmakers, critics, the media and child development experts, Facebook said Monday it will “pause” its work on a kids’ version of its photo and video-oriented Instagram app.

But what’s not yet clear is just how seriously Facebook is taking the concerns of experts and parents. Its decision to merely pause the project suggests it still plans to expose a much younger audience to Instagram, its well-documented harms and possibly the user profiling that feeds Facebook’s targeted ad machine. That ad machine, of course, has made the company one of the most profitable on the planet.

WHY IS FACEBOOK DOING THIS NOW?

The company’s move follows an explosive mid-September report by The Wall Street Journal that found Facebook knew from its own research that Instagram was harming some teems, especially girls, leading to mental health and body image problems and in some cases eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.

In public, however, Facebook has consistently played down the app’s negative side and until now has barreled ahead with the kids’ version despite alarms from experts, lawmakers and its own research. It has also relentlessly criticized the Journal article as cherry-picking from Facebook’s research, though it did not dispute the facts. That story, however, was based on internal research leaked by a whistleblower at the company.

It’s likely not a coincidence that on Thursday, a panel of the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing examining the “toxic effects” of Facebook and Instagram on young people. It’s the latest of several hearings to look at whether Big Tech companies are hiding what they know about the harms their products cause.

SO IS INSTA FOR KIDS CANCELED?

Facebook has very specifically not said that it will abandon the project. Instead, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said in a blog post Monday that the company will use its pause time “to work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the value and need for this product.”

Translation: Expect Facebook to sharpen its message on the “benefits” of Instagram for Kids in hopes that the furor will die down.

Consider that Facebook had already said it was working with parents, experts and policymakers back in July when it introduced safety measures for teens on its main Instagram platform. In fact, the company has been “working with” experts and other advisors for another product aimed at children — its Messenger Kids app that launched in late 2017.

“Critics of Instagram Kids’ will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea,” Mosseri wrote. “That’s not the case.”

WHO ARE THE EXPERTS WORKING WITH FACEBOOK?

Four years ago, Facebook said it gathered a group of experts in the fields of online safety, child development and children’s media to “share their expertise, research and guidance.” The group it calls Youth Advisors include some well-known and some lesser-known nonprofit groups, including the Family Online Safety Institute, Digital Wellness Lab, MediaSmarts, Project Rockit and the Cyberbullying Research Center.

All of these groups receive some form of funding from Facebook, according to their websites. Meanwhile, some of the best-known children’s online advocacy groups — and Facebook’s biggest critics on this matter — such as Common Sense Media and Fairplay (formerly known as the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood) are notably absent.

Critics acknowledge that many of the cooperative experts mean well, but say their influence has been negligible. “Facebook has shown time and time again that it is incapable of governing or advising itself with any integrity,” said Kyle Taylor, program director for the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a group critical of the social network. “Facebook’s funding of research and civil society is hugely problematic, and prevents the kind of direct, open process that is required for any real change to occur.”

When Facebook seeks feedback for its projects, Taylor added, “the decks are always stacked with experts who have a financial interest or who will never criticize Facebook’s core issues – their algorithm and their profit margin.”

COULD FACEBOOK STILL PULL THE PLUG?

Fairplay executive director Josh Golin argues that Instagram for Kids may have already sunk beneath the waves. The “pause,”‘ he said, is a good way for Facebook to save face and hope that after a while people will forget about it.

He acknowledges that his group and other advocates failed to pressure Facebook into canceling its kids’ messaging product, but says Instagram for Kids is different.

“Instagram is a much much worse platform for children” than Messenger, he said, noting Facebook’s own internal research and a “wealth of evidence” supporting this point. The climate has also changed since 2017 and 2018, when the “techlash” against Big Tech’s harmful effects on society was just emerging. Now, it’s in full force and much more organized. Finally, there’s tech product inertia.

“With Messenger Kids, the backlash didn’t start until it had already came out,” he said. “It is much easier for a corporation to walk back a product that doesn’t yet exist than to take a product off the market,”

WHAT ABOUT OTHER PLATFORMS?

Facebook, of course, is not the only tech platform whose products have caused ripples of concern about the well-being of children. And creating kids’ versions in the face of these concerns is a popular response. After getting in trouble with U.S. regulators for violating children’s privacy rules, for instance, TikTok created a “limited, separate app experience” for users who are under 13. They can’t share videos, comment on other people’s videos or message people. But as with any other app, if kids enter a fake birthdate when they register with the app, they can get around that provision.

YouTube has a kids version too. Lawmakers earlier this year called it a “wasteland of vapid consumerist content” and launched an investigation that’s still ongoing.

—-

AP Technology Writer Tali Arbel contributed to this story.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

Microsoft is cutting 10,000 workers, almost 5% of its workforce, in response to "macroeconomic cond...
MATT O'BRIEN, Associated Press

Job cuts in tech sector spread, Microsoft lays off 10,000

Microsoft said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that had just notified employees of the layoffs, some of which begin immediately.
14 days ago
exxon mobil sign pictured...
SETH BORENSTEIN and CATHY BUSSEWITZ Associated Press

Study: Exxon Mobil accurately predicted warming since 1970s

Exxon said its understanding of climate change evolved over the years and that critics are misunderstanding its earlier research.
20 days ago
FILE - Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, stand on the roof of the...
The Associated Press

Brazil and Jan. 6 in US: Parallel attacks, but not identical

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil — Enraged protesters broke into government buildings that are the very symbol of their country’s democracy. Driven by conspiracy theories about their candidate’s loss in the last election, they smashed windows, sifted through the desks of lawmakers and trashed the highest offices in the land in a rampage that lasted hours […]
22 days ago
President Joe Biden pictured...
ZEKE MILLER AP White House Correspondent

DOJ reviewing potentially classified docs at Biden center

Special counsel to the president Richard Sauber said “a small number of documents with classified markings” were discovered at the offices of the Penn Biden Center.
23 days ago
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: A poster advertising the launch of Prince Harry's memoir "Spare" is s...
Jill Lawless Associated Press

Prince Harry says explosive book is a bid to ‘own my story’

Prince Harry defended his decision to publish a memoir that lays bare rifts inside Britain’s royal family.
23 days ago
utah capitol, a new bill heading to lawmakers will affect the utah sex offender registry...
HANNAH SCHOENBAUM Associated Press/Report for America

States target transgender health care in first bills of 2023

After a record flow of anti-transgender legislation last year, Republican state lawmakers this year are zeroing in on questions of bodily autonomy.
25 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
EXPLAINER: Why Facebook is holding off on kids’ Instagram