Instagram has put on hold plans to develop a version of its service for children under the age of 13 after facing pressure from lawmakers to abandon the effort and new questions about the photo-sharing service’s impact on teen girls.
“While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we’ve decided to pause this project,” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, wrote in a blog post published Monday. “This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.”
The announcement comes just days before the US Senate holds a hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Facebook, Instagram, and Mental Health Harms” to discuss the social media pressures that today’s youth face. Following a Wall Street Journal investigation into what Facebook knows about how Instagram affects teen users, including their mental health, the hearing was held.
Mosseri acknowledged in a blog post on Monday that the Journal’s reporting “has raised a lot of questions for people.” While Instagram can be a place where people have “negative experiences,” an Instagram official stated earlier this month that the app also gives marginalized people a voice and helps friends and family stay connected.
In a statement released Monday, Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, a child advocacy group formerly known as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said, “This is a watershed moment for the growing tech accountability movement and a great day for anyone who believes that children’s wellbeing should come before Big Tech’s profits.”
“We urge Facebook to use this ‘pause’ to actually engage with the independent child development experts who understand how Instagram will undermine young children’s wellbeing,” Golin added. “We won’t stop pressuring Facebook until they permanently pull the plug. “
An internal Instagram memo obtained by BuzzFeed News in March stated that the company had “identified youth work as a priority” and was planning to build a version specifically for kids.
In May, 44 state attorneys general signed a letter to Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to abandon plans for a younger-targeted Instagram, citing mental health and privacy concerns. The letter was written less than a month after child safety organizations and members of Congress raised similar concerns.
In a blog post published in July, the company stated that it is working on “a new Instagram experience for tweens” that will be managed by parents and guardians as part of its efforts to “reduce the incentive for people under the age of 13 to lie about their age.”
“The reality is that they’re already online, and with no foolproof way to stop people from misrepresenting their age, we want to build experiences designed specifically for them, managed by parents and guardians,” the post said.
Mosseri said Instagram is working on a series of tools to help with mental health during an interview on the Today Show on Monday. This includes a feature called Take a Break, which allows users to leave the platform temporarily without others being able to comment or send messages when going through a difficult time, such as a breakup.
Instagram is also working on implementing optional parental controls for users aged 13 and up. More information on how this will work will be announced in the months ahead, according to the blog post.