The version of Instagram for those under 13 won’t happen – or at least not anytime soon. On Monday, September 27, Facebook announced to “pause” the development of Instagram Kids, in order to respond to the criticisms made even before its launch on behalf of children’s mental health. The group wants to take more time “to work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the value and necessity of this service,” says Instagram head Adam Mosseri in a post on the social network’s blog.
The company says it still believes in designing a version for younger people, arguing that “kids are getting younger and younger on their phones, lying about their age and downloading apps meant for ages 13 and up.” But she says she’d rather take time to explain herself in the face of critics calling on Facebook to abandon the project.
Series of alerts: For the critics are many.
In May, the attorneys general of 44 states had sent a letter to the founder of the Californian group mentioning the research showing a correlation between the use of social networks and the “increase in psychological distress and suicidal behavior among young people”. Among other things, they mentioned the harm caused by constant comparison with peers, such as eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia), as well as the dangers of online harassment by other teenagers or by criminal adults.
In April, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a collective that campaigns against marketing to children, sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg along the same lines, stating that:
“While collecting valuable family data and retaining a new generation of Instagram users is undoubtedly good for Facebook’s bottom line, it will likely increase the use of Instagram by young children who are particularly vulnerable to the platform’s manipulative and exploitative features.“
But Instagram’s announcement comes mostly days after revelations from the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. national newspaper had had access to several internal presentations circulated to Facebook employees showing that the company was aware of the mental health and anxiety issues that use of Instagram was causing for teens. “One in five teens say Instagram is hurting their self-esteem,” details one page of a presentation circulated within the company.
Until then, Facebook had always publicly retreated behind the fact that, on this subject as for others affecting the impact of social networks on teenagers, there would be no scientific consensus.