Facebook’s plans to launch an Instagram version for children under the age of 13 continue to face criticism.
On Monday, 44 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 comes less than a month after child safety advocates and members of Congress raised similar concerns.
“Use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account,” the latest letter said. “Further, Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms. The attorneys general have an interest in protecting our youngest citizens, and Facebook’s plans to create a platform where kids under the age of 13 are encouraged to share content online is contrary to that interest.”
According to Facebook, such a service would give parents more control over their children’s online activity.
“As every parent knows, kids are already online. We want to improve this situation by delivering experiences that give parents visibility and control over what their kids are doing,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to CNN Business. “We are developing these experiences in consultation with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates. We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general. In addition, we commit today to not showing ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13.”
According to the spokesperson, Facebook is also a founding sponsor of a new Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital to better understand the impact of digital technology on children.
Buzzfeed News obtained an internal Instagram memo in March stating that the company has “identified youth work as a priority for Instagram” and is moving forward with plans to build a version specifically for kids. It came two days after the company issued a blog post titled “Continuing to Make Instagram Safer for the Youngest Members of Our Community,” in which it stated that it needed to do more to combat abuse, bullying, and other issues on the platform.
During a Congressional hearing in March, Zuckerberg was asked about the company’s plans to create a version of Instagram geared toward younger users. “I find that very concerning, targeting this particular age bracket, 13 and under, given the free services, how exactly will you be making money?” said Gus Bilirakis, a Republican congressman from Florida. “Or, are you trying to monetize our children, too, and get them addicted early?”
The platform is still “early in our thinking,” according to Zuckerberg, and “there is clearly a large number of people under the age of 13 who would want to use a service like Instagram.”
Instagram does not formally permit users under the age of 13 to use the platform. However, due to the lack of strict age verification, some younger users have accounts. While a more safety-focused service could theoretically better suit that untapped audience, the attorneys general’s letter expressed grave concern about privacy, citing children as an example “may be unaware of what content is appropriate to share with others, the permanence of content they post on an online platform, and who has access to what they share online. They are also simply too young to understand the complexities of what they come across online, according to the letter.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has expressed interest in creating a children’s version of one of its services. Its Messenger Kids messaging app is aimed at children aged six to twelve.