News broke earlier this month that Facebook has plans to build a new version of Instagram for kids under the age of 13. They’ve chosen 13 because anyone below that age is currently prohibited from using any of Facebook’s products (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger) aside from Messenger Kids, which was released in late 2017. Age 13 is also the cutoff for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which has tougher restrictions on platforms for younger kids.
Given the volume of younger users on Instagram’s platform despite the age restriction, and given the increased competition with TikTok (which also has an age restriction of 13), it makes sense from a business standpoint for Facebook to venture down this path, but many in our agency are concerned about the possibility.
Why We’re Skeptical About Instagram for Kids
1. Data & Privacy Concerns
The number one issue with social media, in general, is privacy, which has become a growing concern among not just marketers but the general public as documentaries over the past few years expose the inner workings of the network’s advertising systems. Add to that the latest (and very public) feud between Facebook and Apple over the recent iOS update and Google’s upcoming move to eliminate third-party cookie tracking.
Now, it’s logical to assume that Facebook and other networks/applications will inevitably gather data on our children, especially when they become of age to have their own profiles. It’s also likely these networks already have some sort of profile created on your child due to the information you’re already sharing. But why do they need information on younger and younger audiences? Under the age of 13, this audience has no direct buying power and no need for data to be collected on them. In fact, Messenger Kids has been under scrutiny from day 1 with accusations of violating COPPA, so why are they moving forward with another application that’s likely to elicit a similar response?
It’s no secret that children can be mean, even more so on the internet. The rise of social media has led to nearly 20% of bullying to occur on social sites. What’s more, 56% of online harassment victims report that they had been harassed on Facebook specifically. Even if the network moved to create an Instagram environment that only promoted positive engagements (for example, only being able to Like an image – not providing public Like counts or allowing comments/DMs) that won’t stop users from taking a screenshot and sharing items with others (35% of online harassment already occurs this way).
3. Child Safety
Facebook has made some very public statements recently about their initiatives to keep younger members of their communities safe on their platforms, but is it enough? It’s already difficult for Facebook to validate the age of its users. The only real way to prevent anyone under the age of 13 from being on Instagram right now is to report their profile. So, if kids are already making profiles on the “adult” app, who’s to say that adults won’t be creating profiles on the kids-only app? Creating a network exclusively for kids just seems like an invitation for child predators.
To that point, Messenger Kids, a Facebook app, was designed with safety protocols that were supposed to protect children. However, in 2019 The Verge reported a design flaw in the program that let thousands of kids chat with unauthorized users. If this already happened once, can we be sure something similar won’t happen again?
4. The Social Veneer
People generally share on social media the positive parts of their lives, which can create a false impression that everyone else’s life is perfect. Understanding the reality of this is challenging enough for adults, but children who are not yet teens should not be expected to grasp it. This could lead to even higher rates of depression and anxiety among children.
Simply put, kids don’t understand boundaries and naturally overshare with anyone who will listen. We all know that one kid who dishes all the family tea during carpool just because they don’t know any better. Now, imagine giving that child their own social media profile – what are they going to share? If the past year of virtual learning has taught us anything, it’s that kids don’t understand the boundaries of cyberspace.
While Facebook’s intent about the new app is public knowledge, their detailed plan has not yet come to fruition. We really have no idea how they plan to develop this app and what features will be available, but that still doesn’t eliminate our concern. Our opinion is that Facebook should table this project and instead focus their attention on their existing suite of products and the numerous flaws that are in need of a solution.
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