Facebook urged to abandon launch of Instagram Kids

Hawaii Attorney General Clare E. Connors joined a coalition of 44 attorneys general in urging Facebook to abandon its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13, citing serious concerns about the safety and well-being of children and the harm social media poses to young people.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the coalition contends that social media can be detrimental to children for myriad reasons and that Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.

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“Research shows that social media use by our young children is detrimental to their development and mental health, which means companies such as Facebook should strive to protect them from harm rather than benefit from their vulnerabilities,” Connors said in a statement. “I urge Facebook to consider the well-researched evidence of harm that a social media platform targeting children under the age of 13 could cause and to abandon further development.”

In their letter, the attorneys general express various concerns over Facebook’s proposal, including research that social media can be harmful to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children; rapidly worsening concerns about cyber bullying on Instagram; use of the platform by predators to target children; Facebook’s checkered record in protecting the welfare of children on its platforms; and children’s lack of capacity to navigate the complexities of what they encounter online, including advertising, inappropriate content and relationships with strangers.

Strong data and research have shown a link between young people’s use of social media and an increase in mental distress, self-injurious behavior and suicidality, the statement said. Instagram has been frequently flagged for increasing suicidal ideation, depression, and body-image concerns in children.

Additionally, the attorneys general argue, young children are not equipped to handle the many challenges that come with having an Instagram account, including that they often lack a developed understanding of privacy. There is also a risk that predators may exploit children online and cloak their identities using the anonymity of the Internet.

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Cyber bullying is also a major concern, and a 2017 survey found that 42% of young Instagram users had experienced cyber bullying on the platform, the highest percentage of any platform measured. As children spend more time online during the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues have likely been exacerbated, according to the statement.

Co-leading today’s letter are the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Nebraska, Tennessee and Vermont. The letter is joined by the attorneys general of Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.