Facebook has been developing a new Instagram app just for kids. The project, called Instagram Kids, has been put on pause by the social media giant after criticism that this was maybe not the best idea. The app was targeted to kids under the age of 13.
Instagram head Adam Mosseri said on Monday that the project, which would have been free of ads and allowed parents to monitor their children's social media activity, had been shelved—for now, according to the Wall Street Journal. This pause in the app's development comes after reporting showed that Facebook is aware of the harm posed to, specifically, young girls who frequent Instagram.
"You may have heard of a project called Instagram kids," Mosseri said. "The idea was a version of Instagram that is designed to be safe for tweens. Now, what did you hear straight from me that we're gonna pause our work on the project. But I want to be very clear, I still strongly believe that it's the right thing to do. It has to be better to give parents the option to give their tweens, a version of Instagram that was designed with them in mind that it was designed to be safe for those between 10 and 12."
"One where there are no ads," Mosseri continued, "where there are parental controls, where there's age-appropriate content, where they can supervise and shape the experience in meaningful ways, deciding how much time their kids can spend on Instagram, who they can follow, and who they can message. Than the alternative, which is to rely on companies like ours to verify the age of people who don't even have IDs."
"Now, we're going to take a step back. And we're going to take that time to talk and listen to parents, safety experts and researchers and get to more consensus about how exactly to move forward. But we're also going to take some of the work that we did for Instagram kids, specifically parental controls, and bring them to teens more broadly," Mosseri said.
"We've seen competitors do similar work even for those under 13, specifically YouTube and Tiktok. And we've talked to parents all around the world. And we hear consistently, though, that they're looking for more ways to supervise and shape the experience that children have online and on social media. These are just two steps on a longer path for us embracing our responsibility and trying to do the best we can by the Instagram community," he concluded.
32 percent of teen girls, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal, said that Instagram exacerbated body issues and also led to an increase in anxiety and depression. The research showed that 6 percent of users in the United States with suicidal thoughts traced their origins back to Instagram. It was 13 percent in the UK.
Senator Josh Hawley took Facebook's Vice President of Privacy and Public Policy Steve Satterfield to task before a Congressional committee, demanding answers as to what the tech giant knew, when they knew it, and what they were planning to tell the public about it.
Hawley wanted to know specifically when Satterfield had planned to release the research done internally. Answers were not particularly forthcoming.
"You've already done the research," Hawley said. "This research is completed. You've done it. You already know the results. You know the data. You've actively misled Congress for years now. You've deliberately misled senators as recently as just a month ago, Senator Blumenthal was just telling… putting on the record. You have the research, will you make it public? Yes or no."
"Senator, respectfully I strongly reject those characterizations. The issue of greater transparency around research…"
"Let’s…. Let’s try answering my question. Will you release the research? Yes or no?" Satterfield dodged the question.
Facebook knew that the impact of Instagram on girls' sense of self has been substantially damaging. "We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls," the company said during an internal presentation in 2019 about the research into girls' experience on the platform.
Senator Ted Cruz also tried to get to the bottom of this during a subcommittee hearing. "I read a quote a minute ago," Cruz said, "Quote, 'We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.' I didn't write that, Facebook wrote that. Is that an accurate statement?" Cruz asked Satterfield.
"We do this research in order to inform hard conversations," Satterfield said.
"I didn't ask why you did the research. I asked if the statement, that was the result of your research, is true," Cruz continued. "The Facebook research concluded that 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users trace their desire to kill them to Instagram. Is that a conclusion of your research?" Satterfield suggested a private meeting. Cruz balked, but answers were not forthcoming.