May 24, 2022

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Future Technology

Instagram urged by religious leaders to scrap plans for kids app

Instagram’s plans to build a version of its photo-and-video sharing app for people under 13 years old is still sparking criticism, even after the company paused the project in September.

On Tuesday, child protection nonprofit Fairplay sent a letter signed by more than 75 religious leaders that urges Meta co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to permanently end plans to launch Instagram Kids. Meta, formerly known as Facebook, owns Instagram. 

“After much meditation and prayer, we assert that social media platforms that target immature brains, practice unethical data mining and are inspired by profit motives are not a tool for the greater good of children,” the letter states. 

Concerns about child safety on social media sites such as Instagram grew after former Facebook project manager turned whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal company research and correspondence last year. The Wall Street Journal published a story in September, partly based on the documents Haugen gathered, about how Instagram knows the app is “toxic for teen girls,” citing research that stated the app worsened body self image issues. Instagram said its research was mischaracterized, noting the app also helps teens connect with friends and family.

In December, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri appeared before Congress for the first time. During the hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, asked Mosseri if he would commit to permanently pausing Instagram Kids. Mosseri replied that what he could commit to is that no child between the ages of 10 and 12 would have access to the app, if the company ever managed to build it, without parental consent. 

That response hasn’t been enough to satisfy Instagram’s critics. 

“We are glad you have paused this project in response to fierce public outcry, but are dismayed to hear that the head of Instagram intends to move forward with it. A pause is not enough,” Tuesday’s letter states. 

Instagram spokeswoman Stephanie Otway said the company had nothing to add beyond the company’s September blog post about the topic. Instagram says it started the project to give parents more control over the social media use of their kids, who may be lying about their age to log onto apps meant for people above 13 years old. Instagram also said in December it would launch new parental controls this year, including a way for parents to see how much time their kids spend on Instagram and set time limits on the app. 

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