Since the inception of social media, kids have not been welcome on social media. Or rather, age limits have been largely ignored and attempts to include children in some way have not gone well. However, Facebook has made it a priority to create an Instagram for kids aimed at users under the age of 13.
It was back in the earlier days of social media. Pre-teens were not allowed. My son easily found a way around it. He lied about his age and created secret accounts I didn’t know about. I’d find out, delete them, and he’d just create more
The point is, kids have long used social media. They just lie about their age – with and without their parents’ knowledge. But now Facebook wants to give them a platform just for them with an Instagram for kids. The current platform only allows users over the age of 13.
“I’m excited to announce that going forward, we have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list,” wrote Vishal Shah, Instagram’s vice president of product, 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.”
The current head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, would oversee the project, with vice president Pam Diwanji leading it. She had previously been with Google, where she had created YouTube for Kids.
Blowback on the Plan
This announcement comes after Instagram had been criticized for allowing young people to be abused. The company had admitted just before the announcement that it needed to do more. Mosseri told Buzzfeed that Instagram knows more and more kids want to use the platform, but it’s been a challenge to verify ages.
“We have to do a lot here,” he said, “but part of the solution is to create a version of Instagram for young people or kids where parents have transparency or control. It’s one of the things we’re exploring.”
PhD candidate Priya Kumar is doing research on how social media affects families. She sees an Instagram for kids as a way for Facebook to hook kids early on and normalize “that social connections exist to be monetized.”
“From a privacy perspective, you’re just legitimizing children’s interactions being monetized in the same way that all of the adults using these platforms are,” she said.
She added that members of YouTube for Kids migrate to the regular YouTube. “A lot of children, either by choice or by accident, migrate onto the broader YouTube platform,” she said. “Just because you have a platform for kids, it doesn’t mean the kids are going to stay there.”
Facebook had also created Messenger for Kids after consulting experts, but a bug in the platform was allowing strangers to connect with children. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced pressure to discontinue the platform.
Additionally, whether or not an Instagram for Kids is added, teenagers face much harassment on the regular Instagram and other platforms and always have. There are sadly many reports of teens being bullied on social media and going on to take their own lives.
Instagram announced earlier in the week it plans to address that as well: “This may include things like restricting these adults from seeing teen accounts in ‘Suggested Users,’ preventing them from discovering teen content in Reels or Explore, and automatically hiding their comments on public posts by teens,” reads a company post.
But that does nothing to protect teens from other teens. Instagram has lofty goals and much work ahead. It will not be easy to create and cultivate these platforms, especially amidst public and expert criticism.
Adding to the woes, read this story about iOS 14 showing that Instagram was using device cameras without user knowledge.