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The attorneys general of 44 states sent a letter Monday urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to halt the company’s launch of Instagram Kids, a version of the app designed for children under the age of 13. In the letter, whose signatories include New York Attorney General Letitia James and California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the attorneys general accuse the social media giant of failing to protect children in the past.
“Use of social media can be detrimental to the health and well-being of children, who are not equipped to navigate the challenges of having a social media account,” they wrote. “Further, Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms.” “The attorneys general have an interest in protecting our youngest citizens, and Facebook’s plans to create a platform where kids under the age of 13 are encouraged to share content online is contrary to that interest,” they added. Buzzfeed News initially reported that Facebook was building an Instagram for kids in March, citing an internal company post it had obtained. In a statement to Motherboard, a Facebook spokesperson claimed that the company was only “exploring” a kids version of the app and that it would be working with legislators. “We’ve just started exploring a version of Instagram for kids,” the spokesperson wrote. “We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it. We also look forward to working with legislators and regulators, including the nation’s attorneys general.” “In addition, we commit today to not showing ads in any Instagram experience we develop for people under the age of 13,” they added.
The attorneys general argue, however, that social media is often harmful for children’s mental health, referencing research linking apps like Instagram to decreased self-esteem, as well as self-injurious behavior. They also argue that children do not fundamentally possess a developed understanding of privacy and pointed to the risks of cyberbullying. In perhaps the most combative section of the letter, the signatories point to Facebook’s “record of failing to protect the safety and privacy of children on its platform.” The concerns echo longstanding critiques of the platform, which reported 20 million instances of child sexual abuse in 2020. In 2019, The Verge reported that a bug in Facebook’s messenger kids meant that children could enter into group chats with strangers. More fundamentally, the letter argues that Instagram Kids is simply an attempt to expand Facebook’s reach into a vulnerable group of users, rather than create an actually safer environment for them. “It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,” the attorneys general write. “In short, an Instagram platform for young children is harmful for myriad reasons.”