March 28, 2023

Introducing ‘Instagram for Kids’: What Experts and Policymakers Are Saying

By Gillian Arthur

If you’re a Gen Z kid, chances are you’ll remember the thrill of joining Facebook before you were legally allowed to. Despite Facebook’s policy forbidding users under 13 to make accounts, tweens could easily lie about their ages. For most pre-adolescents, Facebook’s irresistible appeal stemmed from two things: it was exclusive for kids under 13 and having one made kids feel more adult. Just about everyone was in on the trend. So if you wanted to be a part of Facebook’s exclusive club, you had to lie. 

Shortly after Facebook came Instagram. Age restrictions were again, merely a formality. Making it even easier for kids to shield social media activity from their parents (who hardly knew what these apps were let alone that their kids were posting personal photos and information).

Even though guardians are more aware and involved in their children’s social media activity than before, news of ‘Instagram for Kids’ is leaving parents, advocacy groups, policy makers and tech companies grappling with some very pressing questions: 

  • Are kids growing up too fast?
  • What age are children really ‘ready’ for social media?
  • Can parents bend the age limit when there is one?
  • (Arguably the most important question) How do we keep kids safe on social media? 

Last month, Buzzfeed News obtained a very important internal company post outlining Instagram’s vision for the new app. The news came from Vishal Shah, Instagram’s vice president of product, who posted on an employee message board, “We will be building a new youth pillar within the Community Product Group to focus on two things: (a) accelerating our integrity and privacy work to ensure the safest possible experience for teens and (b) building a version of Instagram that allows people under the age of 13 to safely use Instagram for the first time.” Shortly after news broke, Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, confirmed these plans with his response on Twitter and told the Wall Street Journal that, “Instagram’s version for kids, if launched, would likely give parents tools to monitor their children’s social media accounts, rather than place filters on what content young users can see and how they can interact on the platform … A kids’ product would be entirely free of ads.” 

While Instagram and Facebook are optimistic about the new app, not everyone is in agreement. Especially experts and lawmakers. Jenny Radesky, a pediatrics professor at the University of Michigan, wrote a statement against Zuckerberg’s plans, concerned that children are not developmentally ready for potentially “high-drama and problematic interactions on social media. She says, “Instagram for kids is the last thing they need.”

Even members of Congress penned a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, pressing him with questions about the new app. Like experts, Members of Congress are concerned that “these apps have become addictive, are harmful to young people’s mental health and self-esteem, and a danger to children’s privacy.” And with a history of shady privacy and safety efforts, Instagram’s announcement comes as even more of a concern to advocacy groups. Jim Steyer, founder of Common Sense, a safe technology advocacy group, puts it this way: “Given the privacy and safety track record of Facebook and Instagram, would you let them be your kids’ babysitter?”

When rolling out a social media platform for kids, there are countless consequences if a company isn’t ready to truly protect its adolescent users. If Instagram does in fact go through with their app, they’ll need to restore faith in parents, experts and policy makers that what they are building won’t compromise children’s safety or weaken their mental health. Because right now, their credentials aren’t looking too good.

7 thoughts on “Introducing ‘Instagram for Kids’: What Experts and Policymakers Are Saying

  1. We are already seeing the unintended side-effects of social media use in adults. Most notably is the negative impact it has on our mental well-being and self-esteem. To make matters worse, these platforms ostensibly prey upon these effects by feeding us content that stimulates our brain, for better or for worse. This makes it hard to believe that Instagram and Facebook can really make a child-safe online space. While they are certainly promising such a thing, if their track record is any indication, it might not be likely. Children are especially vulnerable to things negatively impacting their self-esteem and these impacts can last for their entire lifetime. We as a whole society need to be extremely cautious when allowing our children to enter social media.

  2. The relationship between kids and teens and social media is a slippery slope. There are so many negative aspects of social media, especially Instagram, that children do even think about. It negatively affects their body image, sense of self, social life/interactions, and much more. Facebook is known for not being great at the whole “community guidelines” thing, and it leads me to believe that they are not well enough equipped to be making an Instagram for kids. I wonder how this will affect the child influencer scene since most of those accounts are run by the parents.

  3. This is a social media advancement that I think would definitely backfire on us in the long run. Having a platform like this “designed for children” will only further encourage children to engage in the social media world and put an unnecessary pressure on parents to allow them to. Of course there will always be some kids that find a way around the age requirements, but I don’t think that joining the social media world at any age younger than 13 should be promoted. We’ve began to see the effect of social media on Gen Z’s mental health already, so if anything I think that social media developers should be encouraging children to hold off from engaging in that world as long as possible.

  4. I read the title of this post and immediately thought “Instagram for kids is a terrible idea.” Social media already has negative affects on adults and teens, I can’t even imagine what it would do for childlren. Furthermore, everybody has lied at least once while making a social media account. So, what is stopping a grown adult with bad intentions to join this app as a child and possibly pray on them. I say, let the kids be kids there shouldn’t be a rush to join social media.

  5. Hi Gillian! I think you had some really good points in this blog post. I was one of the few kids who was forced to wait until I was actually 13 to participate in social media and I do not think that changed my childhood at all really. I think social media can be a really toxic space and I think that making social media for kids is bad for countless reasons. There are chances for adults to act as children, content to be posted that is not age appropriate and just the obvious point of not being great for their overall wellbeing. There really won’t ever be a way to fully stop children from being on social media, but I don’t think expediting the process is good for anyone.

  6. This is a really interesting read! I have definitely thought about how kids are being born into a time when the internet and social media dictate a majority of our social lives. I have younger cousins who seem to constantly be on an iPad or some other device, and thinking about them being on Facebook or Instagram is terrifying. Elementary and middle school are hard enough without the pressures of online etiquette and appearances. I didn’t know that Facebook was thinking about doing this, so I appreciate you writing about it so I could learn more!

  7. This is an interesting concept. Social Media has already been extremely bad for my mental health, and I’ve been on it since middle school. I really couldn’t imagine the effects that it could have on even younger kids. I feel like introducing them to social media so early will only end up in creating bad habits from an even earlier age.

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