Facebook Announced "Instagram Kids" App Is On Pause To Address Critics' Concerns
“This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns.”
Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri announced this week that the development of Instagram Kids, a version of the app specifically for kids aged 10 to 12 year olds, has been halted. The announcement from the company, which is owned by Facebook, comes amid months of backlash from parents, politicians, and child safety advocates, as well as a damning report from the Wall Street Journal’s “Facebook Files” series, linking Instagram to negative mental health in teenagers. Mosseri said, however, that this is not an end to the project, but a “pause.”
“This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns,” he wrote in a statement shared on Monday, “and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.” He also denied the suggestion that this pause was due to backlash against the project from numerous critics, including parents, child safety groups, and politicians.
In March, 44 state Attorney Generals wrote to Facebook urging the company to pull the plug on the app, citing research indicating the detrimental effects of social media use on young children and teens as well as Facebook’s past failures to safeguard younger users. “Facebook has historically failed to protect the welfare of children on its platforms,” they wrote. In April Congressional Democrats — Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal and Representatives Kathy Castor and Lori Trahan — wrote a similarly critical letter, voicing disdain for the project and a lack of faith in the ability of Facebook to effectively protect children.
Mosseri, who posted a similar message on Twitter, vigorously defended the “value” of (and “need” for) Instagram Kids, highlighting the incorporation of various parental controls, the planned lack of advertising, and the fact that kids are already online and should therefore have an app catered to their safety. He noted that other tech companies, like YouTube and TikTok, have already made versions of the app for kids.
This news also comes on the heels of a report from the Wall Street Journal, which alleges that internal documents from Facebook, representing three years of research, suggest that the company itself has found, repeatedly, that teens consider Instagram detrimental to their mental health, and associate their time on the app as contributing to negative body image, anxiety, and depression. This was particularly true for teenage girls, the publication reported. Facebook refuted this characterization of the data, saying in a statement that its research showed positive mental health outcomes associated with the app on multiple metrics, including loneliness and anxiety.
Mosseri also stated that this pause does not reflect any hesitation on Instagram’s part in their enthusiasm to develop the app. “Critics of Instagram Kids will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea,” Mosseri wrote. “That’s not the case. The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today.”
For their part, Markey, Blumenthal, Castor, and Trahan have released a joint statement stating that a “pause,” is “insufficient,” and that they will re-introduce Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act, which would extend marketing regulations to older children and curb certain tech industry practices that entice children to use their products.
“Time and time again,” they wrote, “Facebook has demonstrated the failures of self-regulation, and we know Congress must step in.”